In November, thousands of Google staffers walked out of their offices around the world to protest how the company handled alleged misconduct by several top executives. It marked what’s likely the largest collective action of tech workers to date. And on Wednesday, exactly six months later, Google workers will protest how the company mishandled that collective action by sitting in.
“From being told to go on sick leave when you’re not sick, to having your reports taken away, we’re sick of retaliation,” the Google Walkout account tweeted on Tuesday. “Six months ago, we walked out. This time, we’re sitting in. 11am tomorrow.”
Google did not immediately respond to our request for comment on the sit-in and claims of retaliation against Walkout organisers. However, in a statement to Vox, a company spokesperson characterised any reassignments as standard and said, “There has been no retaliation here.” That denial conflicts with multiple accounts among employees.
Google employees Meredith Whitaker and Claire Stapleton both helped organise the massive walkout last year. They also both alleged last week that Google has since professionally retaliated against them. Whitaker claimed that the company told her that her role would “change dramatically” after the disbandment of Google’s AI ethics council, Wired reported.
She says she was also informed that she would have to cease her outside work in this space. “I’m told that to remain at the company I will have to abandon my work on AI ethics and the AI Now Institute, which I co-founded, and which has been doing rigorous and recognised work on these topics,” she reportedly said.
Stapleton claimed that in the aftermath of the walkout, Google told her that she “would be demoted, that I’d lose half my reports, and that a project that was approved was no longer on the table,” according to Wired. She also claimed that reporting her grievances to HR only exacerbated the retaliatory problems, and even though she hired an attorney to reverse her demotion, “the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day.”
“Specifically at Google, there’s a lot of anger right now about retaliation - which often persists because people can be wrongfully terminated, but never hold their employers accountable for it because victims are silenced through forced arbitration,” Tanuja Gupta, a program manager at Google and one of the organisers of the Google walkout, told Gizmodo in an email on Monday.
Gupta is also among Google employees leading efforts around ending forced arbitration, both for Google’s contract workers and workers outside of the company. Google employees and Harvard law students from Pipeline Parity Project this week set up phone banks for people to call Congress to urge them to support an end to forced arbitration. This organised effort coincides with Wednesday’s sit-in.
According to tweets from the Google Walkout organisers, “Many workers are calling out sick (of retaliation), a reference to being told to take medical leave when not sick.” Others have reportedly changed their out-of-office email responders to spotlight issues within the company, and others changed their profile photos.
It’s unclear if Wednesday’s sit-in will surpass the scope of Google’s first massive walk-out. What is clear is that tech workers refuse to ignore the failures of their company, choosing to stand up (or sit in) instead of remaining complicit in the face of unjust labour practices.