Google, the Silicon Valley search giant, has hired IRI consultants, a market research firm notorious for aggressive union busting, likely in response to multiple recent employee protests. IRI Consultants has been hired by several companies to stop workers from forming unions and is known for using repressive and illegal tactics to stop unionizing. This is done by Google as tensions between workers and executives have been rising over the last few years over a number of company policies.
Who is IRI Consultants?
IRI Consultants was founded in 1979 by James G. Trivisonno, a former labor relations and human resources staff member at Ford Motor Company, to help businesses – notably in the healthcare industry - campaign against organized labor, offering such products such as “union vulnerability assessments.” Trivisonno is often quoted in industry journals on the subject. For example, in July 2015, he told Healthcare Finance News: "Union avoidance is something called good management.” And in 2016, he was offering a workshop titled: “How to make unions unnecessary.”
In 2015, IRI Consultants was hired by Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California, after nurses decided to unionize. The unions and supporting workers accused the hospital and IRI of using repressive and illegal tactics over serval months to influence the vote. The California Nurses Association reported that these tactics included:
- Harassment and threatening of union supporters from higher ups - Illegal offers of pay increases for those who opposed unionizing - Forcing registered nurses attend anti-union classes while on the clock - Discriminating and retaliating against nurses who supported the union - Hiring extra security staff to create an atmosphere of fear
In 2018, IRI was hired to help Stanford University’s Valleycare Medical Center in Palo Alto, California organize an anti-union campaign after nurses decided to unionize. Nurses told the university newspaper that Stanford Hospital ran an “aggressive, nasty campaign” in an attempt to scare them.
What is IRI Consultants helping Google management do?
What exactly is IRI Consultants helping Google management do? Details are scarce apart from internal calendar entries stumbled upon by two anonymous company employees who shared them with reporters at the New York Times, which suggest that the firm has been advising the company since this past spring.
In that time period, protest organizers point to several changes that mark a departure from Google’s official Code of Conduct, which includes the line: “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right—speak up!”
For example, this past April Meredith Whittaker and Claire Stapleton, two employees who played major roles in the November 2018 walk outs over Google’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations against executives, say they were forced out.
In October, Bloomberg News reported that workers were worried that Google had added a new extension to workplace browsers that would allow the company to monitor any employees who were trying to organize by tagging employees who make calendar events “with more than 10 rooms or 100 participants.” The memo argues this is ultimately an “attempt of leadership to immediately learn about any workers organization attempts”.
Then in late November four protest organizers - Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman - were fired specifically for using company internal systems to speak out.
Most recently, Kathryn Spiers, a security engineer at Google, was fired in mid-December for creating a browser pop-up that informed staff of their labour rights if they searched for information on IRI. Indeed, her task at Google was creating such pop-ups for staff who might have acted irresponsibly with internal data. Google confirmed the firing. ““We dismissed an employee who abused privileged access to modify an internal security tool,” a spokesperson told the Verge website in a statement. “This was a serious violation.”
Tensions between workers and executives have been rising at Google over the last few years over a number of company policies
• In April 2018, over 3,000 Google employees signed a letter protesting “Project Maven” – a contract with the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence to identify objects from drone video footage • On November 1, 2018, some 20,000 Google workers walked out of their offices around the world in protest against sexual harassment, unequal pay and abuse of power by management • Later that month, hundreds of employees signed a letter protesting Google’s “Project Dragonfly” to design a censored search engine for China • On May 1, 2019 hundreds of Google staff staged a sit-in to protest management retaliation against worker organizers • In August 2019, some 1,500 employees signed a letter calling on the company not to bid on a cloud computing contract with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency over abuses at the U.S.-Mexico border • In November 2019, over 1,000 employees signed a letter calling on the company to stop funding climate change deniers and make a plan to go carbon neutral