Google Terminates 28 Employees for Protesting $1.2 Billion AI Contract With Amazon for Israeli Government

Google Terminates 28 Employees for Protesting $1.2 Billion AI Contract With Amazon for Israeli Government

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has dismissed 28 employees for participating in protests against Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion joint contract with Inc. to supply AI and cloud services to the Israeli government.

The protests, organized by the No Tech for Apartheid organization, took place Tuesday at Google offices in New York City, Seattle, and Sunnyvale, California. Protesters in New York and California held a nearly 10-hour sit-in, with others capturing the event, including via a Twitch webcast. On Tuesday evening, nine of them were arrested for trespassing.

Several protesters, even those who did not directly participate in the sit-in, got a message from the company’s Employee Relations group alerting them that they had been placed on leave. In an email reviewed by Bloomberg, Google stated that it is “keeping this matter as confidential as possible, only disclosing information on a need-to-know basis” to the affected employees. According to a statement from Google employees involved in the No Tech for Apartheid campaign, the workers were warned on Wednesday evening that they would be fired by the business.

“Physically impeding other employees’ work and preventing them from accessing our facilities is a clear violation of our policies, and completely unacceptable behavior,” Google said in response to the demonstrators. “After ignoring several demands to leave the premises, law enforcement was called to remove them to guarantee office safety. We have completed individual investigations that have resulted in the termination of 28 workers, and we will continue to investigate and take action as necessary.”

Google has always advocated for an open debate atmosphere, but recent employee activity has put that dedication to the test. Workers who staged a 2018 walkout over the company’s treatment of sexual assault allegations claim Google punished them for their activism. Four other employees said they were fired for organizing resistance to Google’s collaboration with federal Customs and Border Protection, as well as for other workplace advocacy.

Employees in the United States have the right to take collective action regarding their working circumstances under labor law. According to John Logan, a labor professor at San Francisco State University, tech workers will likely argue that this should allow them to band together to protest how the tools they produce are utilized.

“Tech workers are not like other kinds of workers,” he went on to say. “You can make an argument in this case that having some sort of say or control or ability to protest about how their work product is being used is a sort of key issue.”

Tech businesses, such as Google, are known for having “more egalitarian and very cosmopolitan work cultures, but when they encountered labor activism among their workers, they responded in a sort of quite draconian way,” Logan noted.

Two Google employees who were involved in the demonstration in California told Bloomberg that some workers gathered on the sixth floor of Google’s Sunnyvale bureau, which houses Cloud Chief Executive Officer Thomas Kurian’s office, to offer solidarity for those conducting the sit-in. It’s unclear how Google recognized protest participants, given only some had their badges checked by security, and several of those fired were outside Google’s offices, according to employees.

According to one employee, Google may have framed the initial decision to take staff on leave as “confidential” to save face in public, and the demonstrators did not breach any corporate policies. The demonstrators departed the building as soon as they were requested and did not hinder or upset anyone else inside the company, according to the individual.

Beyond the protest, Google has struggled to handle internal disagreement over the Middle East crisis. Following the demonstration, posts on internal Google forums included a mix of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli attitudes, with some other employees expressing concern that the topic was unsuitable for the workplace, according to one Google employee. Moderators locked down some threads on the subject, claiming that previous debates had been too hot, the employee explained.

Despite Google’s response, employees demonstrating against Project Nimbus have experienced an increase in support since the sit-in, according to one of the sacked workers.

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