Organizers of 2018 Google walkout allege retaliation from management

Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, in a mass mail to employees, said that they had faced cancellation of projects and other obstacles at work. Retaliation against those involved in organizing is against the law in the US

April 28, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
The 2018 walkout saw 20,000 employees protesting Google's handling of sexual harassment cases.

On April 22, a complaint was filed against Google with the National Labor Relations Board by an anonymous individual. On the same day, two of the organizers of the 2018 global Google Walkout protest alleged, in a mass email to other employees, that they were facing retaliation from the management. Retaliation by companies is against the law in United States and attracts heavy penalties.

Google has been under pressure in the recent past over several labor rights issues. During the Walkout for Real Change campaign held in October 2018, over 20,000 employees had walked out of their desks in protest against the company’s handling of sexual abuse cases. The protesters had raised the issue of forced arbitration and the lack of transparency in investigations of sexual misconduct. In many cases, the protesters noted, those who complained of sexual harassment were forced into negotiation with their harassers and the company. The walkout attracted international attention and became the face of the emergent labor organizing and unionizing in technology companies.

In the mass email, published by Wired, Meredith Whittaker, among the seven known organizers of the walkout campaign, said that after the company disbanded its external AI ethics council on April 4, which she was part of, she was told that her role would be “changed dramatically”. The company also asked her to abandon the AI Now Institute, which she had co-founded, without stating a reason.

Claire Stapleton, who wrote the mail along with Whittaker, has been working in the company for 12 years and is the marketing manager at YouTube. In the email, she said, “Two months after the walkout, I was told that I would be demoted, that I’d lose half my reports, and that a project that was approved was no longer on the table.” “While my work has been restored, the environment remains hostile and I consider quitting nearly every day,” she added.

When asked about the mass email, Google insisted that they “prohibit retaliation in the workplace” and that “there has been no retaliation here”. But in the letter, both Whittaker and Stapleton alleged that “Google has a culture of retaliation, which too often works to silence women, people of color and gender minorities.”

“It’s often confusing and drawn out,” the letter said, “consisting of icy conversations, gaslighting, project cancellations, transition rejections, or demotions. Behavior that tells someone the problem isn’t that they stood up to the company, it’s that they’re not good enough and don’t belong.”

Since the protest in October, Alphabet Inc., the parent body of Google, has been forced to make some significant changes, including ending of forced arbitration earlier this month and the opening of a new website where employees can file complaints of sexual misconduct at workplace. But there is no indication of any change or formulation of policies over conduct of sexual harassment cases and on the questions of transparency. Of late, Google founders have also started skipping the company’s weekly town halls, customary meetings where employees meet the management and have open conversations about workplace conditions.