Vox: National Labor Relations Board expands its legal complaint against Google

All four Thanksgiving Four employees are now covered by the complaint

Back in December 2020, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a formal complaint against Google for violating U.S. labor law, asserting that Google illegally fired Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers in November 2019. Laurence is one of the "Thanksgiving Four", four employees who were all fired just before Thanksgiving of 2019 for their public efforts to hold Google ethically accountable. The NLRB has now expanded its complaint to include the three remaining members of the Thanksgiving Four: Rebecca Rivers, Sophie Waldman, and Paul Duke. 

As Vox suggests, the case has particular relevance because it has the potential to carve out new ground for protected workplace speech. While U.S. labor law allows employees to discuss "terms and conditions of employment", there's no agreement on how to interpret what this means -- is speaking about "conditions" strictly limited to topics such as wages, or does it include topics such as, say, whether it's a good idea for your company to be complicit in putting kids in cages at the U.S. border?

I'll include some extracts from the Vox article below.



What are you legally allowed to say at work? A group of fired Googlers could change the rules.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the US’s top enforcer of labor rights, just expanded its complaint against Google to include three more fired Google workers. Those former employees say the company retaliated against them for protesting its work with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)...

The added cases could expand US employees’ legal rights to protest the societal impact of their company’s work, beyond the more common labor issues of wages and hours. This reflects a growing movement among rank-and-file tech workers who are pushing to have a say in how their work is used...

In the summer of 2019, Duke, Rivers, and Waldman began researching and raising concerns internally about Google providing cloud computing software to CBP. They drafted a petition demanding that Google pledge not to work with CBP or other immigration agencies, such as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stating it’s “unconscionable that Google, or any other tech company, would support agencies engaged in caging and torturing vulnerable people.” Nearly 1,500 Google employees eventually signed the petition...

... the NLRB’s former top lawyer initially dismissed the claims of Duke, Rivers, and Waldman because he found it outside the scope of protected worker organizing. In May, the Biden administration’s new acting general counsel, Peter Ohr, reversed that decision... As Ohr has recently stated in a public memo, he believes that, in some cases, employees’ “political and social justice advocacy” can be protected under the law — even if it’s not “explicitly connected” to workplace concerns — if that advocacy has a “direct nexus to employees’ ‘interests as employees.’”...


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