• Rebecca Rivers

The Untold Consequences of Labor Organizing and Activism

CW: Images of self-harm scars, suicidal ideation


A little over a year ago, I started my first real foray into labor organizing and worker activism. I had been tangentially involved in worker activism for a while. I signed petitions. I participated in walkouts. It wasn’t until last year during Pride Month when I started being an active part of it.


Through a lot of my time at Google since 2015, Google appeared to be on the side of good. Executives were even involved in various activities such as when Googler’s walked out to protest the Trump Administration’s travel ban. At that moment, I felt proud to be working at Google because our motto really was “Don’t be evil.”


The longer I stayed at Google, the more the rose-tinted glasses began to fade. Googlers were being lied to more and more. Google was branching out into censored search, and military hardware. In 2018 when Googlers protested, Google retaliated. I saw it happen in front of my own eyes and part of me still didn’t want to believe it.


As time went on, one thing became very very clear. Anyone or anything that gets in the way of Google’s profits will be removed by any means necessary. I knew that Google would view Labor Organizing and Worker Activism as being “in the way” of Google’s profits. I knew that Google might retaliate against me the same way they did against Meredith and Claire. I knew and I did it anyway because Google’s stated moral philosophy, enshrined in their Code of Conduct, says “And remember… don't be evil, and if you see something that you think isn't right – speak up!”


I will never stop speaking up about Google’s abuses. I will never stop trying to make Google and this world a better place, and I would and HAVE gone through a lot to do it. Because of Google, my life has been turned upside down and drastically changed. I haven’t talked about all of the hardships I have endured, but I wanted to share them with you here.


Let me start with the blatant lies that were told about me to the entire company, by Google’s Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker. Below is a transcription of a blog post that he posted internally which contains many lies and false associations.



“””

Community Guidelines Policy [11/12/2019]

By Kent Walker


I understand a few people are talking about our Need to Know policy and our Community Guidelines. Sharing information is obviously important to Googlers and Google. Our guidelines in this area are designed to provide clarity on how we can get, share, and secure the information we need to do our work. These are of course fine things to discuss, but there are some inaccurate theories circulating so while we generally don’t provide details of personal decisions, I wanted to provide some background facts.


First, no one was put on administrative leave for merely accessing or opening a single need-to-know doc. We do carefully and thoroughly investigate and take action against violation of our policies, particularly when they result in wide sharing of confidential material, external leaks of internal-only material, or behavior that makes our employees feel unsafe. To be specific:


  1. An individual was recently terminated for leaking Googler’s names and personal details to the media. This sort of thing is simply not ok. We’ve seen leaks of emails, group discussion threads, live TGIF discussions, MOMA screenshots, calendar invites, and more, as a way of criticizing fellow employees or developments at Google. FOr example, not only di the content of a recent TGIF leak, but we got an email from a reporter following a recent Social TGIF(i.e., where people get together to socialize and snack) asking why our internal calendar invite didn’t include “the usual link” to enable people remotely to access it ( the reporter wrote “this does appear to be the case based on screenshots I saw of the prior calendar invite and the most recent one”).

  2. A second person has been put on leave while the investigations team looks into why they deliberately searched for, accessed, and shared a number of confidential or need-to-know documents outside the scope of their job, after receiving prior feedback not to do so. Many of these documents subsequently appeared in the press.

  3. A third person has been put on leave while we investigate a series of actions they took, including tracking a wide range of individual calendars ( of folks on the Community Platforms, POps, and Comms teams, causing a lot of stress for people who are just trying to go about their work.


I’ve seen some comments saying that our approach to these things has changed, but I’ve been here a long time and I can tell you that Google never tolerated this type of behavior. If we live up to our goals as a company, we have the potential to develop incredible products and services that can help billions of people around the world. While it’s great to have constructive disagreements, we can’t let internal wrangling get in the way of that mission. We need an environment that lets us work well with each other on our shared goals.


“””



I have refuted these lies many many times before, but this is the kind of language that Kent Walker uses about people he represents. Not only were none of the documents labeled “Need-to-know” or “confidential”, but literally none of the documents ever appeared in the press. Even Google’s own Global Investigations team agreed with that.


These statements aren’t harmless. My friends who still work at Google say they have heard these lies from others in management such as Sundar Pichai and Jeff Dean. These lies have been repeated to various news outlets. They have also likely been spread through HR back-channels.


On the phone call in which I was fired, the gaslighting began. Nearly every word out of their mouth was a lie, and when I asked clarifying questions pointing these lies out, I was ignored and talked over. After firing me, Google provided me with incorrect documents related to my employment and attempted to force me to sign a document with links I didn’t have access to. All my attempts to get correct documents from Google or get clarification were met with silence.


Since being fired, I have been harassed on every single social media platform I have been a part of. I’ve had to change many privacy and security settings on accounts and ended up deleting some due to the abuse. I’ve had to deal with everything from transphobia, to people wishing I would die, to people spreading lies about me.


I think the worst harassment I have received has been from recruiters. I have been intentionally and repeatedly deadnamed by recruiters. Some of you might be thinking, “How do you know it was intentional? Couldn’t they have had your old information?” To that let me respond with what actually happened in all of these cases. I will use an example company name so as not to get in any trouble.


A recruiter from the large tech company Nile looks at my LinkedIn profile. I get an email(not a LinkedIn Message) to my email, addressed to my deadname from said recruiter. I don’t respond because I am insulted and hurt by the actions. The recruiter then proceeds to send me 4 more emails over the next two weeks all while deadnaming me.


This hasn’t just happened a single time. This has happened several times, from several different companies. Each seeing my current LinkedIn profile and each one sending repeated emails with my deadname.


Harassment isn’t the only crap I get from recruiters. Since being fired, I have had only 3 interviews of any kind. Every single other application I have sent was either ignored or immediately rejected without follow up. I’m not trying to imply I should have gotten every interview or job offer, but this has been very different from every other job hunt I have had. There are many other activists and labor organizers who are having similar trouble in finding work after being fired.


My mental health has been one part of my life that has been hit harder than many of the others. In 2017, I had to go on short term disability leave for my mental health. While on leave I was diagnosed with severe depression, general anxiety, and bipolar disorder. By 2019 I was on good medications and had some good therapy and I was on my way towards real, long-term, recovery.


Since being fired, my mental health is in the worst state it has been my entire life. Due to my bipolar disorder, it doesn’t always hit at once but comes in waves. Where I feel like I am doing better for a week or two and then crash. Since I have been fired, I have had weekly therapy, with the occasional twice/week.


My declining mental health really took a hit on my hair. As many trans women know, having long hair can give you such euphoria, and having short hair can really really suck. In October, before I was fired, my hair was 7-8 inches long and I was happy. As the stress built up, and things continued to get worse, and worse, I started pulling at my hair to calm down. At first, it was mainly just pulling my fingers through my hair, but it didn’t stop there.
















Above are a few images that show the various stages of my hair shortening. The first ones look pretty normal taken in early January. Then when I changed the direction my hair parted, it was because my hair became uneven. Little by little, my hair disappeared. Friends would ask if I got a haircut, and I would lie and say that I did. The third image was taken in June. The only haircut throughout these pictures was in between the last two. I pulled most of my hair out due to the stress and anxiety caused by Google.



CW: Self/harm, suicidal ideation


So, this part is going to be really hard to write.


Since being fired, I have started more consistently cutting myself. It is one of the few ways I can cope with the intense feelings of self-hatred towards myself. I had only cut myself once before during my darkest time in 2017, but after everything, it was the only way I could live with myself. Below is a picture of how my arm looks now.


I don’t like that I hurt myself. I would love to be able to stop hurting myself. Some weeks I succeed in not doing it. Other weeks I don’t. It is one of the few ways I keep myself from going any further and suicidal ideation is a regular visitor to my brain. Let me tell you, it is nearly impossible to openly talk about suicidal ideation, without fears that you will get locked up. One of the few ways I could express myself was through comics.





I guess the last consequence that I will be dealing with for years to come are all the legal processes that are now going on. I can’t talk specifically about any of the ongoing cases, but I likely will have to deal with these legal matters for a long time to come.


Some of these consequences I knew I could face before I became involved in activism and labor organizing. Other consequences I did not expect. This is mainly because I had too much faith in Google. I wanted to believe that Google really cared about their motto of “Don’t Be Evil”. But there is one lesson I learned: If you get in the way of their money, they will attempt to destroy you.


Please don’t miss the message of this blog post, because I am not trying to discourage you from joining labor organizing or activism. I wanted to share my experiences to enrage you. Because this won’t end with just me and the rest of the Thanksgiving Four. This playbook is being used by Amazon and Facebook and really all companies.


My life will never be the same because of the shit that Google has put me through, but when people ask me if I would stand up to Google again here is my answer:




You’re damn right I would.


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