Google Fires More Workers After CEO Says Workplace Isn’t for Politics

A number of employees protested the tech giant’s contract with the Israeli government. They’ve been let go.

The Washington Post

April 23, 2024

3 Min Read
Google logo on building

SAN FRANCISCO - Google fired about 20 more workers whom it said participated in protests denouncing the company’s cloud computing deal with the Israeli government, bringing the total number of workers fired in the past week over the issue to more than 50, according to the activist group representing the workers.

A spokesperson for Google confirmed it had fired more workers after continuing its investigation into the April 16 protests, which included sit-ins at Google’s offices in New York City and Sunnyvale, Calif.

The firings come several days after chief executive Sundar Pichai told employees in a companywide memo that they should not use the company as a “personal platform” or “fight over disruptive issues or debate politics.”

“The corporation is attempting to quash dissent, silence its workers and reassert its power over them,” said Jane Chung, a spokesperson for No Tech for Apartheid, a group that has protested Google’s and Amazon’s contracts with the Israeli government since 2021.

The protests at Google are among a wave of opposition to the U.S. government and corporations working with the Israeli government and military. Pro-Palestinian protesters have been arrested in recent days at Yale and Columbia universities, spurring accusations of heavy-handedness by university officials and inspiring another wave of demonstrations at other colleges around the country. The day before the Google sit-ins, activists blocked highways, bridges and airport entrances across the United States to protest the war in Gaza.

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At Google, the situation has become a public fight between Google managers and the fired employees. Google says that each worker it fired actively disrupted its offices, while the workers dispute the claims, saying some of those fired did not even enter the company’s office on the day of coordinated demonstrations against the company.

Google fired workers who willingly left the sit-in when asked by company officials, and also fired some workers who “had just stopped by to chat,” Hasan Ibraheem, one of the Google workers who was arrested and fired, said Monday during a news conference.

Before firing them, Google’s investigators worked to identify protesters, including those who were wearing masks and did not have their ID badges visible, said Google spokesperson Bailey Tomson. “Every single one of those whose employment was terminated was personally and definitively involved in disruptive activity inside our buildings. We carefully confirmed and reconfirmed this,” Tomson said.

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Some of the protesting workers have said the company has a double standard when it comes to which employees it disciplines. Other Google workers have posted the names and photos of pro-Palestinian workers online, “doxing” them and opening them up to harassment from people on social media, the workers have said.

After circulating a petition regarding Google’s work with Israel among other employees, Mohammad Khatami, one of the fired workers, said he was called into a meeting with human resources and “accused of supporting terrorism.”

“I have not been called a terrorist since I was a child, and at the zenith of software engineering at Google is where I’m hearing this terminology again,” Khatami said.

Google has fired workers in the past who publicly criticized the company, but it has not fired this many people at once. For years, Google had a reputation as the most free and open among the Big Tech companies in terms of office culture and collaboration. The company celebrated an internal culture in which employees knew what other teams were working on and were encouraged to question the decisions of leaders.

In his memo to workers, Pichai said the company’s openness was a strength but applied to work topics, not politics.

“We have a culture of vibrant, open discussion that enables us to create amazing products and turn great ideas into action,” he said in the memo, which the company posted online. “But ultimately we are a workplace and our policies and expectations are clear: this is a business.”

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