A recent judgment by the National Labor Relations Board sheds light on Google’s top-secret anti-union campaign, which a top executive openly described as an effort to “convince [employees] that unions stink.” According to court records, the campaign was called Project Vivian, and it ran at Google between late 2018 and early 2020 to undermine employee activism and union organizing activities.
Project Vivian, according to Michael Pfyl, Google’s director of employment law, is an effort “to engage employees more constructively and persuade them that unions are a waste of time.”
A NLRB judge ruled on January 7 that Google must “immediately” provide 180 internal documents relating to Google’s Project Vivian campaign that he reviewed, including the memo containing Pfyl’s description. So far, Google has refused to hand up these records to an attorney representing former Google employees, citing attorney-client confidentiality.
As part of an ongoing NLRB complaint against the corporation, the sacked employees filed a subpoena for these papers. After organizing against Google’s relationships with immigrant detention agencies, the workers were dismissed in 2019. The NLRB filed a federal case against Google in late 2020, alleging that the four software developers were unjustly fired and surveilled. Google claimed at the time, and continues to claim, that they were fired for violating security protocols.
Google employees found in 2019 that the company had hired IRI Consultants, a union avoidance agency. IRI Consultants is well-known for supporting businesses in anti-union activities by gathering data on employees’ personalities, finances, work ethic, motivations, and ethnicity in order to thwart union initiatives. Google was dealing with an unusual surge of employee protests and activism at the time, over issues such as sexual harassment, contracts with the Department of Defense, and Customer and Border Protection.
The NLRB judge describes evidence he reviewed of a situation where a Google attorney proposed to find a “respected voice to publish an OpEd outlining what a unionized tech workplace would look like, and counselling employees of FB (Facebook), MSFT (Microsoft), Amazon, and Google (sic) not to do it” in his ruling on the Project Vivian documents.
Google’s human resources director, Kara Silverstein, stated she “like[d] the idea” of the op-ed, but that it should be written in such a way that “there would be no fingerprints and it would not be Google specific.” According to the judge’s report, IRI Consultants eventually delivered a proposed draught of the op-ed to a Google attorney.
“The decision to hire IRI was not made by lawyers, but by a group composed primarily of non-attorneys,” according to the secret documents pertaining to Google’s Project Vivian, which include Silverstein, Google’s human resources director, and Danielle Brown, Google’s vice president of employee engagement.
According to the judge’s assessment, Project Vivian reportedly included discussions about Google employees’ “resistance to mandatory arbitration.” Ending compulsory arbitration at Google has been a key uniting point for Google employee activists in the past. Following employee protests, the corporation agreed to remove mandatory arbitration in February 2019.
“The fundamental case here has nothing to do with unionization; it’s about employees violating clear security protocols in order to get unauthorized access to proprietary information and systems,” a Google spokeswoman stated. “We disagree with the complainants’ characterization of the legally privileged materials in question. As previously indicated, our teams work with dozens of independent experts and legal firms on a variety of topics, including employer responsibilities and employee engagement. For a short time, this included IRI Consultants. However, we decided not to use the resources or ideas examined during this interaction in 2019, and we still believe that decision was correct.”