A Google exec reportedly said the tech giant’s secret antiunion project was supposed to convince employees ‘that unions suck’

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, speaks on artificial intelligence during a Bruegel think tank conference in Brussels, Belgium January 20, 2020.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, on January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
  • A Google executive reportedly said the firm’s “Project Vivian” was to convince employees “that unions suck.”
  • The news surfaced as part of an NLRB court ruling.
  • The case kicked off after four Google employees were fired in 2019 after organizing.

New details have surfaced about Google’s secret anti union campaign, dubbed Project Vivian.

The tech giant ran the project between late 2018 and early 2020 to convince employees not to unionize, per a new report from Vice, which viewed court documents not yet available to the public.

Google’s director of employment law, Michael Pfyl, in the documents called the initiative an opportunity “to engage employees more positively and convince them that unions suck,” Vice reported. 

Another Google attorney also reportedly wrote that the company should select a “respected voice to publish an OpEd outlining what a unionized tech workplace would look like, and counseling employees of FB (Facebook), MSFT(Microsoft), Amazon, and google (sic) not to do it.” 

And Google’s HR director, Kara Silverstein, said she supported the idea but said it would be best if “there would be no fingerprints” and wouldn’t be “Google specific,” per the report.

A Google spokesperson told Insider: “The underlying case here has nothing to do with unionization, it’s about employees breaching clear security protocols to access confidential information and systems inappropriately.” 

Four Google employees, who were fired in 2019, filed a complaint with the NLRB alleging they were illegally terminated for organizing. In response, the company claimed the group — which came to be known as the “Thanksgiving Four” — was fired for violating security rules by sharing confidential information, which the former employees deny.

Google employees then discovered in 2019 that the company had hired a company called IRI Consultants that is known for helping employers squash organizing efforts. That decision wasn’t made by Google’s lawyers but by higher-ups like Silverstein and Danielle Brown, the company’s vice president of employee engagement, Vice reported, citing court documents. 

The series of court documents surfaced as part of a ruling last week involving the National Labor Relations Board and comes after an NLRB judge directed Google to hand over 180 pieces of internal material involving the project late last year. The tech giant, however, has since refused, citing attorney-client privilege, per Vice.

An NLRB judge, however, said that doesn’t apply to some of the documents.

“Many of these documents are, or involve the development of, campaign materials in which IRI provides antiunion messaging and message amplification strategies and training tailored to [Google’s] workforce and the news and social media environment,” NLRB judge Paul Boas wrote in 2019.

Google pushed back on that argument at the time, telling Insider that the firm disagrees with the “characterization of the legally privileged materials referred to by the complainants.”