Just before Thanksgiving, Google fired four engineers alleging they violated the company's data-security policies. Now, those ex-employees claim that they were fired for attempting to organize a union, and say they're going to submit a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
The former Google engineers said in a statement Monday that they believe Google is engaging in “draconian, pernicious, and unlawful conduct” to stop workers from organizing, adding that they expect the NLRB to find that Google broke the law by firing them.
“Google wants to send a message to everyone: if you dare to engage in protected labor organizing, you will be punished,” the statement reads.
A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that it fired employees for sharing sensitive information with people outside the company, but declined to confirm the names of employees terminated for that reason.
“We dismissed four individuals who were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees' materials and work. No one has been dismissed for raising concerns or debating the company's activities,” the spokesperson said.
Google appears to be gearing up for the possibility of broader conflict within the company, hiring a consulting firm “known for anti-union efforts” last month, The New York Times reported. A group of Google contractors in Pittsburgh voted to unionize in September, the first group of Google-affiliated workers to do so.
The clash comes in the midst of prolonged turmoil inside Google, where activist employees are voicing complaints and alleging mistreatment of workers. Tensions have also flared over Google's work on a censored search engine for China and its Project Maven drone contract with the Pentagon.
The rising tensions at Google build on the company's longstanding culture of openness, in which employees have historically been encouraged to speak critically about the company's practices and keep tabs on its operations. The four fired engineers said in their statement that that culture is coming to an end.
“They count on the fear, the sadness, and the anger that we are all feeling to stop us all from exercising our rights, and to chill all attempts to hold one of the most powerful organizations in history accountable for its actions,” the former employees wrote.
Last month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company would hold fewer town hall-style “TGIF” meetings, a longstanding tradition that served as a forum for employees to question the company's leadership. Pichai wrote in an email to staff that Google was cutting back on the tradition due to “a coordinated effort to share our conversations outside of the company after every TGIF.”