Google Fires 28 Employees After A Protest

Alphabet Google stated in a memo that the business fired 28 workers on Wednesday in response to a string of protests against labour laws and its contract to supply cloud computing and artificial intelligence services to the Israeli government and military.

TakeAway Points:

  • According to an internal document obtained by CNBC, Google fired 28 workers on Wednesday in response to several protests over the company’s labour practices and its deal to supply cloud computing and artificial intelligence services to the Israeli government and military.
  • This news comes a day after nine Google employees, including CEO Thomas Kurian, staged a sit-in at the company’s offices in Sunnyvale, California, and New York, on Tuesday night, accusing him of trespassing.
  • In a memo distributed to Google employees on Wednesday night, vice president of global security Chris Rackow announced that “after conducting an investigation, we terminated the employment of twenty-eight individuals determined to be engaged today.” We will keep looking into this and take appropriate action when necessary.

Google Employees Engage in Protest

Nine Google employees were detained on Tuesday night on suspicion of trespassing after conducting a sit-in at the company’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, and New York. The protest also took place at the office of Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian. This news was released the day prior.

According to some of the jailed workers in Sunnyvale and New York who talked with CNBC earlier on Wednesday, they were ordered not to report back to work until they heard from HR, had their work accounts and offices closed during the protest, and were put on administrative leave.

Chris Rackow, vice president of worldwide security at Google, informed Google employees in a memo on Wednesday night that “following an investigation, we terminated the employment of twenty-eight employees found to be involved. We will continue to investigate and take action as needed.”

“Behavior like this has no place in our workplace, and we will not tolerate it. It clearly violates multiple policies that all employees must adhere to, including our Code of Conduct and Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, Retaliation, Standards of Conduct, and Workplace Concerns,” the memo read.

Google Workers Protest

The protests outside Google offices in New York, Sunnyvale, and Seattle drew hundreds of people, according to employees participating, and the arrests that followed were livestreamed on Twitch by participants. Led by the group “No Tech for Apartheid,” the demonstrations were centred around Project Nimbus, which is a $1.2 billion contract between Google and Amazon to supply cloud computing services, including artificial intelligence tools, data centres, and other cloud infrastructure, to the Israeli government and military.

“This evening, Google indiscriminately fired over two dozen workers, including those among us who did not directly participate in yesterday’s historic, bicoastal 10-hour sit-in protests,” No Tech for Apartheid said in a statement, adding, “In the three years that we have been organizing against Project Nimbus, we have yet to hear from a single executive about our concerns. Google workers have the right to peacefully protest the terms and conditions of our labor. These firings were clearly retaliatory.”

Protesters in Sunnyvale sat in Kurian’s office for more than nine hours until their arrests, writing demands on Kurian’s whiteboard and wearing shirts that read “Googler against genocide.” In New York, protesters sat in a three-floor common space. Five workers from Sunnyvale and four from New York were arrested.

“On a personal level, I am opposed to Google taking any military contracts—no matter which government they’re with or what exactly the contract is about,” Cheyne Anderson, a Google Cloud software engineer based in Washington, told CNBC earlier on Wednesday. “And I hold that opinion because Google is an international company, and no matter which military it’s with, there are always going to be people on the receiving end… represented in Google’s employee base and also our user base.” Anderson had flown to Sunnyvale for the protest in Kurian’s office and was one of the workers arrested Tuesday.

“Google Cloud supports numerous governments around the world in countries where we operate, including the Israeli government, with our generally available cloud computing services,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC on Wednesday evening, adding, “This work is not directed at highly sensitive, classified, or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.”

Google faces Pressures

The protests reveal the growing pressure Google is facing from employees against the military’s use of its cloud and AI technologies. “I refuse to design technology that fuels genocide,” Google Cloud engineer Eddie Hatfield said last month, cutting short the managing director of Google’s Israel business’s keynote address. Hatfield was later let go. During the same week, comments made by employees regarding Google’s military contracts with Israel on an internal message board led to its closure. The posts were characterised as “divisive content that is detrimental to our workplace” at the time by a representative.

“I think what happened yesterday is evidence that Google’s attempts to suppress all of the voices of opposition to this contract are not only not working but actually having the opposite effect,” Ariel Koren, a former Google employee who resigned in 2022 after leading efforts to oppose the Project Nimbus contract, told CNBC earlier on Wednesday. “It’s really just creating more agitation, more anger and more commitment.”

The New York sit-in lasted from noon to approximately 9:30 p.m. ET. About an hour into the protest, Hasan Ibraheem, a Google software engineer located in New York City and one of the workers who was arrested, said that security instructed workers to take down their two-story banner.

“I realized, ‘Oh, the place that I work at is very complicit and aiding in this genocide — I have a responsibility to act against it,’” Ibraheem told CNBC earlier on Wednesday. Ibraheem added, “The fact that I am receiving money from Google and Israel is paying Google — I am receiving part of that money, and that weighed very heavily on me.”

After around four hours, the New York workers were allowed to leave the police station.

Considerations for working Conditions

According to a statement from the campaign, the employees were also protesting their working conditions, demanding that “the company stop the harassment, intimidation, bullying, silencing, and censorship of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Googlers — and that the company address the health and safety crisis workers, especially those in Google Cloud, are facing due to the potential impacts of their work.”

“A small number of employee protesters entered and disrupted a few of our locations,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC Wednesday evening. “Physically impeding other employees’ work and preventing them from accessing our facilities is a clear violation of our policies, and completely unacceptable behavior. After refusing multiple requests to leave the premises, law enforcement was engaged to remove them to ensure office safety. We have so far concluded individual investigations that resulted in the termination of employment for 28 employees, and will continue to investigate and take action as needed.”