Google Recruited Association Busting Experts To Persuade Workers

  • Google Staff Walkout To Protest Sexual Misconduct
    A Google employee holds a sign during a walkout to protest how the tech giant handled sexual misconduct at Jackson Square Park in New York, U.S., Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. The mass walkout was sparked by a recent New York Times report that claimed Google gave millions of dollars to some executives in secret exit packages after they were accused of sexual misconduct. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For quite a long time, Google has endeavored to kill representative drove unionization endeavors under a drive codenamed “Undertaking Vivian.” In the expressions of one ranking director, Project Vivian existed “to connect with workers all the more emphatically and persuade them that associations suck.”

Project Vivian appears to be Google’s response to a surge in worker activism that began in 2018, when thousands of employees walked out in protest of the company’s response to sexual harassment complaints. Months later, employees began pushing for improved working conditions for Google contractors and an end to contracts with US government agencies involved in deportations and family separations. Two employees who helped organize the 2018 walkout later left the company, saying they were facing retaliation.

Ultimately, five employees were fired, and two were disciplined. They filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Google interfered with their law-protected rights to organize at the workplace. The NLRB agreed and filed a complaint against Google in December 2020. Google refused to settle, and the matter went to the NLRB’s administrative court.

Revelations about Project Vivian were made public in a ruling, released late last week, by an NLRB administrative law judge. In the scathing order, the judge, Paul Bogas, told Google to turn over hundreds of internal documents related to its anti-union efforts, his second such order.

Bogas had previously ordered Google to hand over documents for review by a special master in camera, a process that allows another judge to look through them for confidential or sensitive information before they’re made public. Many of the documents involve Google’s work with IRI Consultants, a union-busting firm that the tech giant hired in late 2019. Google has so far refused to produce the documents, claiming that they are protected by attorney-client privilege or work product privilege

Bogas wasn’t having it. “This broad assertion is, to put it charitably, an overreach,” he wrote.

For such privileges to apply, Bogas said, there must be a case that’s being currently litigated—or at least expected to be litigated. Google “cannot spin the mere fact of a nascent organizing effort among employees into ‘litigation’—like straw spun into gold—that entitles it to cloak in privilege every aspect of its antiunion campaign,” Bogas wrote.

What’s more, “the documents confirm that IRI did not give legal advice but rather was retained to provide antiunion messaging and message amplification strategies tailored to the Respondent’s workforce and the news and social media environment,” Bogas wrote.

Many of the documents that Google claimed to be protected by attorney-client privilege or work product privilege “were, in fact, communications between non-lawyers, with attorneys included, if at all, only as ‘cc’d’ recipients, and without any statement seeking legal advice,” he said. IRI, he pointed out, “gave campaign messaging, not legal, advice.”

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