Google fired four employees for what the technology giant said were violations of its data-security policies, escalating tension between management and activist workers at a company once revered for its open corporate culture.

Alphabet’s Google sent an email describing the decision, titled “Securing our data,” to all employees on Monday, according to a copy of the document obtained by Bloomberg News. The company confirmed the contents of the memo but declined to comment further.

Some Google staff have been protesting and organizing in the past two years over issues including the company’s work with the military, a censored search service in China and its handling of executives accused of sexual harassment.

Some supporters of the fired workers said the organizing activities led to their dismissals.

“With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation,” according to a statement from workers who are organizing at the company. “This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won’t stand for it.”

In recent weeks, some workers have cited management moves – such as implementing a tracking tool on employee’s web browsers and hiring a consulting firm known for anti-union work – as attempts to curb activism. The company has denied those charges.


One Google employee wrote on Twitter that the company was firing the employees to stamp out internal dissension.

On Friday, more than 200 people demonstrated outside Google’s San Francisco office for a protest organized by staff. The protesters demanded the company reinstate two employees who had been put on administrative leave, Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland.

On Monday, Rivers tweeted that she had been terminated from her job. Rivers confirmed the tweet but declined to comment further.

Rivers had said she was being targeted for protesting against U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is testing a Google cloud product. Berland was active in protests against YouTube for its handling of hate speech policies. Both said last week that they didn’t trust the company’s official explanation for punishing them.

Federal labor law restricts retaliation against employees for collective action. “When other employees have engaged in the conduct Google cites in its memo, have they been fired?” said Jeffrey Hirsch, a University of North Carolina law professor and former National Labor Relations Board attorney. “If not, Google will likely have to reinstate the employees and pay them back pay.”

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