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Google: We Want to Convince them that Unions Suck

NLRB cases reveals Google's efforts to stop a union drive at the tech giant

Brian Young's picture
Jan 10, 2022

Newly released documents shed light on how far Google was willing to go to stop their employees from organizing a union. In an order from an administrative judge, Google was ordered to hand over all documents related to their anti-union program known as “Project Vivian.” Although they have fought the order, some initial documents have begun to be released.

Google launched Project Vivian in late 2018 after a surge in worker activism. Much of this activism centered around pushing the company to standardize the treatment and pay for Google contractors and pushing the company to end contracts with the Federal government, especially with departments like ICE. Seeing the uptick in activism, the company appears to have gotten scared that it could lead to the workers forming a union. According to the released internal documents, when Google responded by launching Project Vivian. Michael Pfyl, Google’s director of employment law, was quoted as describing Project Vivian’s mission as “to engage employees more positively and convince them that unions suck.” Google also went out and hired IRI consultants to lead their union avoidance campaign. IRI appears to have a long history of working in the healthcare industry to prevent workers from organizing. Another document that was released showed a plan to publish an op-ed that was meant to discourage tech workers not only at Google but also at companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon from organizing. While it does not appear that this op-ed was released, a draft was written up by IRI.

The documents are being subpoenaed as part of an NLRB case brought by seven Google employees and ex-employees from December 2019. (One former employee has since settled.) Five of the workers said that they were fired and another two say there were disciplined after they engaged in workplace activism that included efforts to improve working conditions for contractors and circulating a petition that asked Google to end their contracts with government agencies over the family separation at the border issue. According one of the fired employees, Paul Duke, who filed charges against Google, these efforts were meant to lay the foundation for forming a union at Google.

The hearing for the NLRB case began in August but has been delayed as Google has failed to comply with a number of subpoenas. Instead, Google is contesting being forced to release these documents claiming that they are privileged internal documents. The judge, Paul Bogas, however disagrees and has continued to push for more documents to be released that would speak to the planning that went into Google’s effort to squash any thought of a union at Google.

The documents also shed new light on the competing narratives that came out of the company surrounding the 2018 organizing efforts. While the company was hiring a union avoidance firm and launching Project Vivian, CEO Sundar Pichai was publicly encouraging the activism. This included putting out a blog supporting one of the walkouts around sexual harassment and pledging to support employees and improve Google’s handling of sexual harassment claims and diversity initiatives. “There was always this message that was intended to come off like, we're a family. We care about workers,” said Duke in an interview with Wired. “Really, behind the scenes, they’re trying to kill these union efforts and organizing efforts in general.”

As UCOMM reported in January of 2021, workers at Google announced that their organizing effort would affiliate with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) to form the Alphabet Workers Union. Instead of looking for formal recognition from the NLRB, the Alphabet Workers Union exists as a minority union meaning that they do not have a collective bargaining agreement with Google. Instead, they function more like an association within the company to bring workers together to advocate for common goals in protecting workers rights at the company.

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