Project Nimbus critic accuses Google of retaliation

More than 500 Google employees have rallied around a colleague who claims she is being forced out of her job because of her activism within the company, in the latest flare-up between the tech giant and employees who oppose its business practices and working conditions.

Workers signed a petition accusing Google management of “unfair retaliation” against Ariel Coren, product marketing manager at Google for Education, for criticizing Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion Google and Amazon Web Services contract with the Israeli military and government .

“Unfortunately, Ariel’s case aligns with Google’s dangerous track record of worker reprisals that have made headlines over the past few years – and especially against those who oppose contracts that allow the state to use violence against marginalized people.” the petition says.

Google said it was investigating the incident and found no evidence of retaliation.

The Mountain View, California corporation has weathered several high-profile retaliation claims as some workers have become more concerned and openly critical Company policy, his handling of alleged sexual misconduct and other matters. These include internal criticism of the company’s work with immigration authorities and the statements of Timnit Gebru, who said that she fired in 2020 for challenging the claims of the company recruitment approach underrepresented minorities and for attempting to publish a study of bias in artificial intelligence.

Koren believes that since last spring she has faced additional checks. In May, she urged Google to show solidarity with the Palestinians following Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip. more than 250 people died. In October, she led a letter-writing effort among Google and Amazon workers. who criticized Project Nimbus, multi-year plan open data centers in Israel and provide the infrastructure for a full range of cloud services to the government and military. The letter stated that the program would promote surveillance of the Palestinians and the expansion of Israeli settlements. considered illegal under international law. A letter that garnered hundreds of employee signatures urged Google to sever ties with the Israeli military. Coren was one of two Google employees who spoke publicly to the media about the promotion.

Coren worked at Google for about six years and led the marketing efforts of Google for Education, a division of the company that creates tech tools for classrooms and educators in Latin America. She lived in Mexico City for two years before she was allowed to work in San Francisco, where her partner lives, at the beginning of the pandemic, she said.

In early November, Coren said she joined a video conference call that she expected to be a regular weekly meeting with her manager. Instead, she said, her boss gave her an ultimatum: move to Brazil or lose her job.

At the meeting, Coren said the manager told her that the team’s business in Brazil was growing, her position was being moved to Sao Paulo, and she had 17 business days to make a decision about the move.

“It was so outlandish. It was all completely wild,” she said in an interview.

Coren said that while she had tentative plans to return to Mexico City after the pandemic, her team’s management had never previously raised the idea of ​​moving to Brazil.

Coren filed a complaint with Google Human Resources on November 1st. 22, after reviewing The Times, arguing that the reason for the position’s move was “clearly designed” to alienate her from the team, as no in-person events were scheduled in Sao Paulo and the work her team does is mostly remote. In the complaint, she accused the company of reprisals against her for her activism in protesting the Nimbus Project and of reporting alleged harassment and discrimination against a member of her team to Human Resources in March 2021. holidays, remote work served as a reasonable accommodation for her mental state. With the help of the young Google Workers Union, she also filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board..

Google denies Coren’s allegations of retaliation.

“We carefully reviewed the employee’s claims and found that there was no retaliation,” Google spokesperson Shannon Newberry said in a statement.

Newberry declined to comment further on the case and did not respond to a series of emailed questions about the details of the November meeting between Coren and her manager, the move decision, and Coren’s claim that it was intended to kick her out of the team.

Coren claims in her complaint that within days of the November meeting, the company notified some of her colleagues that she would no longer hold a position on the team, although she had not yet accepted or rejected a transfer to Brazil. According to the complaint, when she asked why this information was being released, her manager stated, “You mean, would you really consider moving to São Paulo?”

“For me, this is further evidence that the ‘choice’ to move to Sao Paulo is not a choice at all,” Coren wrote in the complaint.

Coren’s manager did not respond to a request for comment. Coren’s department head, global director of marketing for Google for Education, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Newberry declined to comment on Coren’s future status with the company and the need for Coren to move. At the time of publication, Coren still works for Google and lives in San Francisco.

NLRB spokeswoman Kayla Blado said the labor council’s San Francisco office was investigating Coren’s complaint.

US Representative Anna G. Eshu (D-Atherton), representing Silicon Valley, wrote a letter expressing her support for Coren. While private companies can choose which contracts they enter into based on business objectives, “employees have the right to voice their objections to their employer’s performance without risking retaliation,” Eshoo wrote in the December issue. 14 letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Koren’s backing highlights the ongoing tension between the increasingly outspoken Google employees and its top management over how the company’s technology is being used. It also fuels the view of a growing cohort of Google employees that the company’s once-transparent culture is giving way to a tightly controlled environment that punishes employee activity.

In recent years, Google employees have protested military contracts, challenging Google’s work with US Customs and Border Protection and its role in the defense program to build artificial intelligence tools used to improve drone strikes. The results of this activity did not appear to have affected Google, which continued to scoop up lucrative defense contracts, and the employees who challenged the company. say they keep running into problems. The workers claimed stops demoted, placed on less desirable projects or otherwise pushed out.

Google defends its practices and says its policy prohibits retaliation.

“Google needs to treat everyone with respect. We prohibit workplace retaliation and share our very clear policies publicly,” the statement, emailed to Newberry, a Google spokeswoman, said. “We take employee concerns seriously.”

Employees at an impasse in resolving social and political issues formed the Alphabet Workers’ Union in early 2021, marking a watershed for big tech companies that have long hampered employee organization with high salaries and benefits. But the union has been reluctant to lead campaigns to resolve disputed contracts, focusing its official efforts on win defense for Withcontractors and interns.

The union’s executive board declined to comment on the Nimbus project and Coren’s case. Union members have supported Coren’s activism, and Coren, who is a member, said the union has played a pivotal role in her current situation. “I don’t think that kind of support would have been possible a few years ago, before the union,” Coren said. “There is more awareness.”

Google software engineer Gabriel Schubiner told The Times that the company’s tight restrictions on the sharing of inside information and selective enforcement of those rules are an attempt to stifle dissent.

Schubiner said speaking out about Project Nimbus was fraught because criticism of Israel is often mistakenly confused with anti-Semitism. Schubiner and Coren are Jewish and say they find it easier to refute such claims than their Palestinian counterparts, who also criticize the Nimbus project.

Coren was “very public and outspoken within the company,” even after previous instances of alleged retaliation had a “chilling effect,” said Parul Kul, a Google software engineer and union member.

Tina Wang, a Google program manager and union member who helped draft the petition, said senior executives to whom it was sent did not respond to her calls to reverse Coren’s relocation order and “put an end to this wider crackdown scheme.”