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Google fires 28 workers who protested selling technology to Israel

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Google has terminated 28 employees - an unusual mass firing at the tech giant. The workers staged a sit-in at Google's offices earlier this week, part of a protest over the company selling its technology to Israel. NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr is here to talk all about it. Hey, Dara.

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: Hi. OK, so tell us more about these workers and what they were protesting about.

KERR: Yes. They are involved with a group called No Tech for Apartheid. It's made up of around 150 Google employees who don't want the work that they do for the company to go to support the war in Israel. And this group began around 2021, but it's really grown since the war in Gaza began last October. The workers are specifically rallying around a contract that Google has with the Israeli government that's called Project Nimbus.

CHANG: And what is Project Nimbus?

KERR: It's a long-standing, $1.2 billion contract that Google shares with Amazon. It involves the companies supplying cloud computing services to the Israeli government. And just last week, Time magazine reported that Google had recently contracted with Israel's military. Google says Project Nimbus is not being used for, quote, "military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services," but the protesters say they still worry this technology could be used to assist the war in Gaza and strikes on Palestinian civilians.

CHANG: Yeah, say more about that. Tell us more about what these workers have been saying.

KERR: Yes. I spoke to one of the protesters who was fired. And she says, up until six months ago, she'd never heard of Project Nimbus. Her name is Zelda Montes, and she was a software engineer at YouTube, which is owned by Google.

ZELDA MONTES: I think that that's something that, like, speaks volumes to just, like, how little people at work actually know about this contract.

KERR: Montes says workers have been trying to raise their concerns in leadership channels for months, but they were repeatedly dismissed. She says that's why they organized the sit-in.

MONTES: That's the action that had to happen because Google was quite literally silencing our voices in the workplace and not allowing for any kind of worker dissent to be expressed around the project.

CHANG: This is so interesting. Can you talk about, like, what happened during the actual protest? Like, how did that lead to workers getting fired?

KERR: Yeah. So on Tuesday, Google let the workers occupy offices in Silicon Valley, New York City and Seattle for a while. But eventually they told the protesters to leave. When the workers refused, Google called the police. Nine employees were arrested in California and New York. Montes was - the worker who I spoke to was - who's based in New York was one of them. She said it was fairly orderly, and they just walked out in handcuffs and spent a few hours in jail. The following day, though, Google sent out the termination notices to 28 employees. Those workers were involved with the No Tech for Apartheid group, but not all of them participated in the sit-in.

CHANG: And what have you heard from Google so far?

KERR: Yes. A Google spokesperson says these workers violated its policies and took part in, quote, "completely unacceptable behavior." It says it did investigations on individual employees, and that's what resulted in the termination of those 28 workers. The spokesperson added that the company will continue to investigate workers and take action as needed. Meanwhile, the No Tech for Apartheid group says it will keep up its efforts to force Google to drop Project Nimbus.

CHANG: That is NPR tech correspondent Dara Kerr. Thank you so much, Dara.

KERR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dara Kerr
Dara Kerr is a tech reporter for NPR. She examines the choices tech companies make and the influence they wield over our lives and society.