Economy First Look

Google workers rally against Trump's travel ban

Joined by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, hundreds of the company's employees rallied outside their headquarters to protest President Trump's immigration ban, echoing criticism levied by CEOs of some of the world's biggest companies.

Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., in 2013.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
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Hundreds of Google employees gathered outside the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters Monday to protest President Trump's executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries, hours after nearly a thousand Google workers held a similar march and rally in San Francisco. 

The unofficial event, started by a Google employee, featured speakers including Google's co-founder Sergey Brin, an immigrant from Russia, and Google chief executive Sundar Pichai. The rally came less than a week after Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, told Google employees in a weekly meeting that the Trump administration was "going to do these evil things as they’ve done in the immigration area and perhaps some others." 

Google is one of several businesses to take a strong stand against the travel ban since it was signed Friday, in what observers are calling an unprecedented corporate reaction to the executive order. The heads of Apple, Ford, and Goldman Sachs have all been vocal in their opposition to the measure, while a number of companies including Starbucks, Airbnb, and others have announced measures to assist refugees or employees affected by the ban. 

"We're in uncharted territory," said Michael Gordon, chief executive of Group Gordon, a corporate and crisis public relations firm in New York, to the Los Angeles Times. "What we're starting to see is the polarization of our politics is now leading to partisanship in everything, even bland topics like transportation, shoes, and coffee." 

At the Google rally Monday, Mr. Brin urged employees not to frame the immigration debate as a matter of Democrat vs. Republican. 

"It's a debate about fundamental values, about thoughtful policy making and many of the other things that I think are apparently not universally adored, but I think the vast majority of the country and of our legislators and so forth support, and I think it's important to frame it that way and to be inclusive about it," Brin said. "Sometimes it might be difficult because I know we have many, many values here that are not necessarily universally shared but I think these are really special times and I think it's important to form friendships with many different people." 

Taking a public stance on a political issue could be a risky move for businesses, particularly under a president with a history of criticizing companies on Twitter. But when the issue negatively affects employees or customers, public relations experts say, a business has no choice but to speak out. An email from Mr. Pichai to staff suggested that the executive order impacted at least 187 Google employees, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

"No company has gone out of business putting their customers and employees first," Matt Friedman, co-founder of Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications in Farmington Hills, Michigan, told the Associated Press. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.