Google’s legal stance could threaten walkout organizers, activists say

Less than three months after
a massive employee protest
, Google is facing a new outcry
from workers for advancing a controversial legal argument as
part of a labor lawsuit.
As first reported by Bloomberg
, Google lawyers
have argued against a crucial precedent allowing employees to
use company email and other infrastructure to circulate
petitions, as part of an ongoing dispute before the National
Labor Relations Board.

Google made the argument defending anti-harassment actions by
management, and says the legal filing has been
over-interpreted. “We’re not lobbying for changes to any
rules,” the company said in a statement. “This was a legal
defense that we included as one of many possible defenses in
the response to a charge.”

“It’s really broken a lot of trust on these issues.”

But employee groups disagree, taking the filing as a direct
attack on their right to organize. “Google is aiming to silence
us at a time when our voices are more essential than ever,” the
official Google Walkout group said
in a statement
. “If these protections are rolled back,
Google will be complicit in limiting the rights of working
people across the United States.”

In particular, organizers say Google is using anti-harassment
measures as a pretense for rolling back labor protections.
“Google is weaponizing this internal harassment to limit
workers rights,” says Yana Calou, who works with organizers at
Coworker.org. “It’s really broken a lot of trust on these
issues.”

Established under the Obama administration, the rule forbids
employers from retaliating against employees who use company
email systems to organize walkouts, circulate petitions, or
form a union. It’s a crucial protection for employee organizers
within Google, who might otherwise be subject to retaliation in
response to the November walkout and other actions.
Many experts believe
the Trump administration’s labor board
might reverse that protection, and activists worry Google’s
argument might give it a pretense to do so.

Google’s position in the case itself is sympathetic to many of
the organizers’ broader demands. The plaintiff is anonymous,
but argues his rights were infringed when the company
disciplined him for internal comments dissenting from the
company’s “very very left wing culture.” In particular, the
comments dealt with “workplace diversity and social justice
initiatives.” Google maintains that it has the right to
discipline employees when comments amount to internal
harassment, as it did
in the Damore case last year
.

Still, labor groups are worried that Google’s strategy for
short-term victory could post a longer-term threat to
organizers. Google won the Damore case without overturning any
broader precedents, and organizers say it shouldn’t be
necessary here either. “The Damore case established that
talking about working conditions doesn’t give you the right to
question your coworkers for immutable characteristics like race
or gender,” Calou says. “They’re separate issues and the fact
that Google would use that as a foil is really sad.”

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