On Second Thought, Be Evil

Photo: AP

Google publicly supported tens of thousands of its employees walking out in November to protest working conditions, but weeks later the company pushed the National Labour Relations Board to roll back a legal protection organisers relied on, Bloomberg reports.

Documents obtained by Bloomberg via a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that Alphabet lawyers argued the NLRB should roll back Obama-era rules that allow workers to use company email addresses to organise—as they did in setting up last year’s mass walkout.

The primary motivation for this gambit had nothing at all to do with the walkout, but instead a complaint filed by a regional NLRB director in 2015. In a statement to Bloomberg, a Google spokesperson contended that the challenge to the Obama precedent was “one of many possible” strategies being employed in its defence, claiming, “We’re not lobbying for changes to any rules.”

Still, organisers within the company reportedly view this tactic as Alphabet talking out of both sides of its mouth: CEO Sundar Pichai told staffers ahead of the walkout that the company was “taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action,” but its challenge to NLRB rules could have undermined the ability for workers to organise future actions. Colin McMillen, an exiting Googler who spoke to Bloomberg, said the challenge “demonstrates that Google leadership is not operating in good faith.”

The optics and timing are terrible for Google, a company that has increasingly been viewed as shirking its (former) informal motto “don’t be evil,” whether through generous payouts to executives known to engage in sexually inappropriate behaviour, or attempts to quietly cosy up to the Pentagon. That Alphabet would try a legal strategy such as this at all is more evidence that, no matter how egalitarian a corporation may try to be, it’s first and only real allegiance is to itself and its shareholders, not its workers.

We have reached out to Google for comment and will update this story if and when the company responds.

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