by Sharon Florentine

Google workers hold sit-in to protest retaliation

News Analysis
May 03, 2019
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In November 2018, Google workers walked out to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. Now, many say the company has retaliated, and they had no choice but to hold a sit-in.

In November 2018, Google workers walked out to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. Now, many say the company has retaliated against them for participating in that walkout. And on May 1, International Worker’s Day, they held a sit-in.

The first protest action occurred on Nov. 1, 2018, when approximately 1,500 Google employees collectively protested inadequate handling of sexual misconduct claims related to two executives. At 11:10 a.m. local time, at more than two dozen Google offices worldwide, employees walked away from their desks, leaving behind a flyer that read:

“Hi. I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out in solidarity with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone. I’ll be back at my desk later. I walked out for real change.”

The November 2018 protest was sparked by a New York Times report detailing how Alphabet CEO Larry Page asked Android co-founder Andy Rubin to resign following sexual assault allegations — and awarded him a $90 million exit package and a supportive statement from Page. The flames were fueled when the same New York Times story revealed that former senior vice president of search, Amit Singhal, received a similarly large severance and that Google X director Rich DeVaul was allowed to remain in his job after sexual misconduct claims, though he resigned immediately after the NYT story published.

Google (which recently removed “Don’t be evil” from its code of conduct) didn’t deny the allegations in the NYT report; instead, CEO Sundar Pichai and Vice President of People Operations Eileen Naughton responded by saying the company has fired 48 people for sexual harassment, and none of those received exit packages.

While in the short term, the protests seem to have achieved at least one of the desired aims — Google announced it would end forced arbitration in sexual harassment cases – many employees now say Google has retaliated against them for participating in the original walkout last year.

Google employees respond to alleged retaliation

In response to the retaliation claims, two Google employees, Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, organized the May 1 sit-in protest. They say their job responsibilities were diminished after other organizing efforts. Other employees have also shared stories of incidents they believe are retaliatory, according to The Verge.

Whittaker and Stapleton organized the sit-in to bring attention to their claims and to push for further action. Over 1,000 Google employees worldwide participated in the protest, with others calling in sick and explaining their actions in Out of Office messages.

“The sit-in participants on Wednesday presented a list of ‘retaliation demands’ to Google management, including a call for a ‘transparent, open investigation’ of Google’s human resources department and its ‘abysmal handling of employee complaints related to working conditions, discrimination, harassment and retaliation,’” according to a copy of the demands obtained by The Hill.

The organizers are also demanding that Google meet the list of demands presented by workers during the Google walkouts months ago,” which included equal pay and a sexual harassment transparency report, along with ending all forced arbitration.

The timing of the sit-in is relevant. May 1, International Worker’s Day, began as a labor strike in Chicago on May 1, 1886, as hundreds of thousands walked off the job to fight for an eight-hour workday. While it’s celebrated as an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially in many more, it’s barely recognized in the United States. Perhaps Google’s sit-in will bring the day the attention it deserves.