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Nov 26, 2019 11:10 AM EST

Google's Firing of Employees Dubbed as "Thanksgiving Four" Results Into Protest

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In what critics within the organization describe as an effort to "crush" workers' efforts to organize, Google has fired 4 employees. The fired employees were dubbed the "Thanksgiving Four" since their contracts were terminated on Monday just before the said holiday.

Through an internal memo, staff members were informed that the firings were related to data protection and employee security. But those who lost their jobs said that they were disciplined for "speaking out".

The sackings followed a demonstration on Friday at Google's San Francisco office, attended by over 200 employees. Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland, 2 of the 4 fired staff members, spoke at the protest.

The Security and Investigations department at Google said the workers regularly accessed unauthorized data about other programs and employees.

The memo from Google read: "Our thorough investigation found the individuals were involved in systematic searches for other employees' materials and work... This includes searching for, accessing, and distributing business information outside the scope of their jobs-repeating this conduct even after they were met with and reminded about our data security policies."

Ms. Rivers, one of the 4, told the crowd that she was put on administrative leave to access confidential documents at the protest on Friday. On Monday, she tweeted that her contract was terminated.

A statement representing the Thanksgiving Four and other organizing workers revealed that 4 of the employees took a stand for a better workplace. The statement continued that the punishment was explicitly condoned in Google's Code of Conduct.  Their statement ended with a reminder that "if you see something that you think isn't right - speak up."

The organizing employees said that Google retaliated against them by putting two of them on a sudden and unexplained leave. They added that the company fired all four in an attempt to prevent workers from organizing.

Google's work with the U.S. Border Patrol is among the issues that cause discomfort among its employees. More than 1,500 employees have signed a petition calling for Google to back up its proposal to provide cloud computing services to the company.

But the workers point to the hiring of IRI Consultants by Google. IRIC is a company that bills itself as a leader in helping major firms avoid "union vulnerability" - a sign that the search engine giant has a growing discomfort with internal activism.

The issue has caught Washington's attention, causing presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders to tweet in favor of the employees. He tweeted that busting unions is unacceptable and that Google should stop its hideous ways of harassing and oppressing workers.

Observers see the move as an indication of the end of the popular 'open-work' culture inside Google. Executives have locked up to a degree how workers can access information about ventures with which they are not affiliated in. Google's chief executive, Sundar Pichai, told staff earlier this month that their regular "all-hands" meeting would no longer take place.

Nevertheless, the Google workers' statement distributed on Monday emphasized that the company will never crush their efforts.

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