After Google put them on indefinite leave for exposing the company’s connections to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, employees Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers rallied tech workers in The City to protest Friday.
“I did my part in (telling) Google not to work with CBP because of the atrocities that they are perpetrating against refugees, including the ongoing detention of children away from their families,” Berland, a software engineer at Google’s San Francisco office, said at the rally. Now, “Rebecca and I are experiencing the full force of Google’s retaliation.”
More than one hundred protesters gathered at Google’s San Francisco Headquarters at noon to hear Berland and Rivers speak about their experience and demand that Google take them back immediately. They waved signs reading “Shame on Google” and “We are not in this alone.”
“We are here to say that Lawrence and Rebecca must be returned to their jobs right now,” said Google Software Engineer Zach Siegel, before leading the crowd into a chant.
“What do we want? Bring. Them. Back. When do we want it? Now.”
We're calling for all workers and allies in the Bay Area to come out in support of this public action by Google workers tomorrow in San Francisco.
Location: 345 Spear St, San Francisco
Spread the word.https://t.co/o609LEGRxw
— Tech Workers Coalition (@techworkersco) November 21, 2019
Ten days ago, a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg that Rivers and Berland were put on administrative leave and are currently being investigated for violating company policy and sharing internal documents.
The employees said the company is retaliating against them for speaking up against injustice.
Rivers, who works out of Google’s Boulder, Colo., office, was suspended in August for opening documents that did not pertain to her work. Coincidentally, the decision came soon after Rivers had also created a petition to demand that Google stop bidding on contracts with Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
More than 1,400 Google employees signed that petition.
“I was told (I was put on leave) because they were investigating my document access to make sure everything was on the ‘up and up.’ However many of the questions during this interrogation focused on my involvement in the Customs and Border Protection petition and social media usage outside of Google,” Rivers told the crowd, which began hissing and whistling in disapproval.
Rivers said she is proud to have helped educate her coworkers on Google’s cooperation with CBP.
“I believe everyone has a right to know what their work is being used for,” she added.
We won’t be complicit: #NoGCPforCBP
With this petition, we call on Google to publicly commit not to support CBP, ICE or ORR w/ any infrastructure, funding, or engineering resources, directly or indirectly, until they stop engaging in human rights abuses.https://t.co/8RITUXKJBq
— Googlers for Human Rights (@EthicalGooglers) August 14, 2019blockquote>
"My name is Rebecca Rivers and I’m a software engineer at Google. I traveled from Boulder to be here today with you all. I am just so amazed seeing everyone here today supporting Laurence and I. I knew that I loved working here for the people but this is just, wow." #WeAreGoogle pic.twitter.com/nnOehghgFK
— Google Walkout For Real Change (@GoogleWalkout) November 22, 2019blockquote>
Berland said he was given no explanation at all for his suspension.
Since he joined Google in 2005, Berland has been an outspoken human rights advocate within the company.
In June, he helped draft an open letter demanding that Google be excluded from the San Francisco Pride parade after the company failed to take action on repeated homophobic attacks on its platforms.
In August, Berland said he did his part gathering signatures for Rivers’ petition.
He was suspended this November just over an hour after sending an email to Google’s Community Moderation Team demanding that they stop deleting employees’ memes, questions and posts.
“I was put on indefinite administrative leave without warning, and I mean literally without warning,” Berland said. “My account was deactivated while I was working, right up there where I sit in this office.”
Berland said Google still hasn’t formally informed him of the reasons why he’s being investigated, and he had to learn that from the press. He said Google confirmed that neither he nor Rivers were being investigated for “leaking”.
“They thought we would take all this lying down,” Laurence said. “(but) we aren’t going to stand for it. They thought we would just give up on our culture, our coworkers, our company. Yet here we are.”
Google is not the only tech company under scrutiny for cooperating with customs and immigration authorities.
According to the National Immigration Project, ICE has been awarding contracts to tech giants since 2002.
This summer, Amazon employees hijacked a company-wide summit meeting by playing the recordings of children being separated from their mothers at a CBP facility to demand that the company cut ties with ICE. And Microsoft’s CEO came under heat after trying to downplay the company’s multimillion dollar “engagement” with ICE.
A few months later, Github also faced workforce protests for renewing a $200,000 with ICE to license software that would help immigration officers gather data and build profiles of immigrant individuals and their friends and families.
“Technology companies (are) playing an increasingly central role in facilitating the expansion and acceleration of arrests, detentions, and deportations,” the National Immigration Project said in a report last year.
On Friday, Rivers and Berland said they are willing to help Google and other tech companies get back on the right track.
“We are all here today because we are still willing to help,” Berland said to close. “We are here to rebuild the trust that they have destroyed. We are offering. They just have to take us up on it.”
Check back for updates on this story.