Following months of growing internal tension between workers and executives within Google, the tech juggernaut has hired a consulting firm known for fighting union activity, according to a report from the New York Times.
As the Times first reported, IRI Consultants’ website states it performs “union vulnerability assessments” and describes one of its successful “labor campaigns” as an instance when it convinced workers at a large healthcare company to abandon their union efforts. “Despite dedicating millions of dollars to their organizing campaigns, the unions did not gain enough support to hold an NLRB-conducted election and were not able to organize any of the employees,” the site boasts.
It would come as no surprise to learn that Google is anxious about worker unrest. In the last couple of years, employees have taken action to show their objection their company’s work on a censored search engine for China, involvement in a Pentagon AI drone program, mishandling of sexual assault and cases, and failure to take serious action against climate change.
IRI did not respond to Gizmodo’s requests for comment. A Google spokesperson did not directly confirm to Gizmodo that it works with IRI. In a statement, a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company works with “dozens of outside firms to provide us with their advice on a wide range of topics.”
Google employees only learned about Google’s collaboration with IRI when they found company calendar events showing the company hired the consulting firm. Two anonymous sources shared the information and screenshots of the calendar entries with the Times.
The employees found the calendar entries in October, shortly after Google added a tool to workers’ browsers that flagged calendar entries that involved more than 100 participants or ten meeting rooms.
As Bloomberg reported at the time, many workers believed the extension was meant to be a spy tool that would crack down on worker opposition.
The calendars were reportedly open to all employees. Some workers used the opportunity to search through the calendar of the HR official who had implemented the new calendar policy, so the workers could try to learn more about the official’s intentions, according to the anonymous sources who spoke to the Times. Those sleuths reportedly then found that the official was a part of a team of people from Google’s legal, communications, and HR departments that had all been meeting with IRI for months. The gumshoe employees found that the HR official met with IRI shortly before the calendar policy was changed.
Google denied that IRI was involved in the company’s decision to create a new calendar policy. “To suggest this particular firm had anything whatsoever to do with the recent calendar extension—or any internal policies whatsoever—is absolutely false,” a spokesperson told Gizmodo.
This should serve as a warning to any company that fails to be transparent and leads employees to believe it is trying to spy on its employees and quell worker dissent.