newly released The document highlights Google’s efforts to crack down on activity, including for unionism, among its employees. In an order filed Friday, a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge asked Google to hand over to the attorney a batch of current and former employee documents related to “Project Vivian” and its assignment to a consulting firm that advises employers’ struggle against union efforts.
Google launched Project Vivian to dissuade employees from joining unions after worker activism began to heat up in late 2018. In it, Michael Pavill, 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 sucking.” The context of Pfyl’s description is unclear from the order, which also refers to an attempt to use the media to quietly publicize Google’s view of union tech workplaces.
Judge Paul Bogas ordered Google to comply with parts of the subpoena for documents relating to Project Vivian, as well as Google’s appointment of IRI Consultants, an anti-union firm. In November, Pujas issued a similar order to other documents relating to Vivian and IRI; The subpoena covers more than 1,500 documents.
The subpoena is part of an NLRB case brought by seven employees and former Google employees in December 2019. (A former employee has since settled.) Five workers have been fired and two disciplined after engaging in workplace activity, including efforts to improve work for two contractors. Google, and circulated a petition calling for the company to terminate its contract with US government agencies involved in the deportation of immigrants and family separation. Paul Duke, one of the fired employees who brought the charges, says the regulation was part of an effort to lay the foundation for a union.
In response to allegations by former employees that they were fired in retaliation for workplace regulation, a Google spokesperson wrote, “The underlying issue here has nothing to do with unions. It is about employees violating apparent security protocols inappropriately accessing confidential information and systems”—a reference to internal documents that Accessed by staff.
Duke flatly rejects the claim that he and his colleagues violated security protocols, saying that the documents were accessible to all engineers and that the company subsequently labeled them as “need to know.”
In its objections to the subpoenas, Google claimed an attorney-client privilege and a “work product franchise,” which protects material prepared in anticipation of litigation. Bogas rejected many of these allegations, describing one insistence as “out of benevolence, transgression”. Writing of efforts to characterize potential union elections as litigation, and therefore distinct, he wrote, “A defendant cannot merely transform the fact of an organizational effort arising among employees into ‘litigation’–like gold-spun straw–which entitles it to cover up in a privileged manner for every aspect campaign against the Union.
Bojas’ request points to an effort by Google executives, including company consultant Cristina Latta, “to find a respected voice to publish an opinion piece outlining what a union tech workplace would look like,” and urges employees of Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, The order states that in an internal message, Google’s director of human resources, Kara Silverstein, told Lata that she liked the idea, “but it should be done so that there will be no fingerprints and no Google.” In accordance with the order, IRI subsequently submitted a proposed draft of Latta’s editorial article; It is not clear if the article has been published.