Google fires 28 staff after sit-in protest against Israeli cloud deal ends in arrests

Alphabet Workers Union says bosses refuse to listen to concerns

Google has fired more than two dozen employees after they staged sit-ins at the web giant's offices in protest of its cloud contract with the Israeli government. 

The sit-in protests, organized by the No Tech for Apartheid campaign, were held on April 16 at Google's New York City office and Google Cloud HQ in Sunnyvale, California. After roughly ten hours of occupation of the offices, during which time the techies were told to leave, the cops in Sunnyvale and NYC arrested nine employees, with Google later saying in an internal memo that they and others had been terminated. 

"Behavior like this has no place in our workplace and we will not tolerate it," Google VP of global security Chris Rackow said in an internal memo shared by the New York Post. "If you're one of the few who are tempted to think we're going to overlook conduct that violates our policies, think again.

"They took over office spaces, defaced our property, and physically impeded the work of other Googlers," the security boss added.

Google confirmed the content of Rackow's leaked letter to The Register and told us 28 individuals were dismissed after an HR investigation. Employees involved were initially placed on administrative leave pending the results of the probe, and ultimately let go. 

That may not be the end of the dismissals. Google told us it "will continue to investigate and take action as needed."

It said the arrests were made when protesters refused to leave the premises and that the occupation, which prevented employees from working and accessing work facilities, was a violation of Google policy - as well as a threat to safety. It described the protests as being orchestrated mainly by non-Googlers. 

"These protests were part of a longstanding campaign by a group of organizations and people who largely don't work at Google," a spokesperson told us. 

Project Nimbus, the issue at the heart of the protest, is a cloud contract between Google, AWS, and Israel signed in 2021 under which Google provides cloud services to Israeli government organizations. The program was designed to help Israel digitize its governmental operations, and has become a lightning rod for Google employees since Hamas attacked Israel in October 2023 and the subsequent ongoing war. 

A difference of opinion

Google disagrees with the protesters' classification of Project Nimbus as part of Israel's arsenal in its conflict with Palestine. 

"We have been very clear that the Nimbus contract is for workloads running on our commercial cloud by Israeli government ministries," a Google spokesperson told us. "This work is not directed at highly sensitive, classified, or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services."

Nonetheless, this isn't the first time Google employees have been terminated over their opposition to the deal. 

In 2022, Jewish ex-Google employee Ariel Koren alleged she had been pressured into resigning for her opposition to the $1.2 billion cloud contract between Israel and the web giants. Koren said, at the time, she feared Project Nimbus would be used to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians, and that Google pushed her to move to Brazil or lose her job. 

Google denied retaliating against Koren, noting that the US National Labor Relations Board dismissed her case against Google for retaliation. 

In March of this year, Google also fired a cloud engineer who spoke up during a conference on Israeli use of AI to protest Project Nimbus. The staffer alleged Israel was using Google Cloud technology to "power genocide, apartheid and surveillance." 

Google refuses to listen, says union

In a statement released after the arrests and suspensions, but prior to the firings, the Alphabet Workers Union expressed frustration with Google's response, saying instead of hearing techies out, the corporate titan simply chose to get rid of them. Shocking.

"We deplore Google's decision to have its own workers arrested and arbitrarily placed on leave for participating in a peaceful protest, rather than engage in substantive dialogue about their concerns," the AWU executive board said

"Workers have reached out directly to Google leaders in a variety of ways, spoken out in town halls and forums, and presented petitions with thousands of signatures," the AWU added.

"We are disappointed that Google has not seriously engaged with the concerns [of] thousands of their employees and instead has engaged in a pattern of retaliation and discrimination against those who speak out."

AWU said several of the terminated employees were union members, and "most" of those axed weren't directly involved in the protests.

The truth is clear: Google is terrified of us

No Tech for Apartheid expressed similar frustrations, saying in a statement the firings were "clearly retaliatory." The group also rebutted Google's claims that the protest was largely committed by individuals who didn't work at the biz, calling the claim "not just untrue," but "insulting."

No Tech for Apartheid said that it hasn't heard from any Google executives despite three years of raising concerns about Project Nimbus. 

"The truth is clear: Google is terrified of us. They are terrified of workers coming together and calling for accountability and transparency from our bosses," No Tech for Apartheid said, adding that the firings won't stop them from protesting. 

"Make no mistake, we will continue organizing until the company drops Project Nimbus and stops powering this genocide." ®

Speaking of Google... The web giant announced some internal restructuring today, such as: moving AI ethics teams into Google DeepMind, and moving the teams working on Pixel, Android, Chrome and ChromeOS, Photos, and more, under one umbrella titled Platforms and Devices. The goal being to get those product groups all focused on baking AI more and more into the Big G's offerings.

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