Google has hired an anti-union consulting firm to advise management as it deals with widespread worker unrest, including accusations that it has retaliated against organizers of a global walkout and cracked down on dissent inside the company.
The firm, called IRI Consultants, appears to work frequently for hospitals and other health care organizations. Its website advertises “union vulnerability assessments” and boasts about IRI’s success in helping a large national health care company persuade employees to avoid a union election despite the unions’ “dedicating millions of dollars to their organizing campaigns.”
Google’s work with IRI is the latest evidence of escalation in a feud between a group of activist workers at Google and management that has tested the limits of the company’s traditionally transparent, worker-friendly culture. Since Google was founded two decades ago, employees had been able to ask management tough questions at weekly meetings, and anyone who worked there could look through documents related to almost any company activity.
That Google hired a consulting firm known for its anti-union work is a surprising turn in Silicon Valley. Union organization — even labor unrest — has traditionally been rare among big tech companies because their employees have usually been treated and paid well. Google, in particular, has been known for its perks, like free meals and shuttle buses to the office.
At the time of the discovery, Google had recently installed a tool on employees’ web browsers that would flag internal calendar events requiring more than 10 meeting rooms or 100 participants.
Many employees believed that the so-called browser extension, which was first reported by Bloomberg, was a surveillance tool designed to crack down on organizing among workers. The company said at the time that it simply wanted to reduce internal spam and that the tool does not collect personally identifiable information.
To learn more about the extension and a calendar policy change that the tool would reinforce, employees began to search the calendar of the Google human resources official who had requested the policy change, according to the two employees knowledgeable about the situation.
While searching that official’s calendar, which was open to other Google employees at the time, these employees discovered that she had been part of a group of Google human resources, legal and communications officials who for months had been invited to meetings with officials from IRI, according to the two employees.
They noticed that the group had a meeting scheduled only a few hours before the human resources official requested the change in calendar policy. The Times obtained screenshots of portions of the official’s calendar and two posts on an internal ticketing system discussing the change.
The New Gilded Age sure is looking more like the original version every day.