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Shocking, shocking: Many companies insist that their employees give them their social network logins.

An article in The New York Times, Even if it Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speak is Protected, describes how the National Labor Relations Board is finally taking some steps and enforcing them against employers who automatically fire or otherwise penalize people’s comments on social media.  Not merely public employers (like the government) but the rulings apply to almost all private sector employees.

It’s about time that protection and regulation for workers’ sakes have been tackled seriously by the NLRB and it’s bringing 21st century concepts to the way people communicate now.

The NLRB’s stance is that it is illegal for companies:

[T]o adopt broad social media policies—like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer—if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions
.

For example, Mariana Cole-Rivera, a caseworker at Hispanics United of Buffalo, a non-profit social service agency, posted the following on Facebook:

“My fellow co-workers, how do you feel?  Several of her colleagues posted angry, sometimes expletive-laden responses.  “Try doing my job.  I have five programs,” wrote one.  “What the hell, we don’t have a life as is,” wrote another.
Ms. Cole-Rivera and 4 other co-workers were fired.  But in a 3-1 decision, the NLRB reinstated the workers.  It held that they were unlawfully terminated because the posts were “the type of ‘concerted activity” for “mutual aid” that is expressly protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

However, the NLRB upheld the firing of an Arizona Daily Star police reporter for his social media postings:

Frustrated by a lack of news, the reporter posted several Twitter comments.  One said, “What?!?!?!  No overnight homicide…you’re slacking Tucson.”  Another began “You stay homicidal, Tucson."
In this reporter’s case the NLRB said the posts were offensive, not concerted activity and not about working conditions.  Personal venting was bad but acting in concert with the aim of improving wages and working conditions is protected by federal law.

The legal distinction between the two rulings is pretty broad.  For instance, what if people responded to the reporter’s “ranting” by ranting themselves ad infinitum?  Most of the websites I comment on have “ranting” commenters.  I wish the NLRB luck with its task of determining what is ranting.

In order to remain on the right side of the law, we must act in concert for mutual aid with the aim of improving wages and working conditions.  Federal law protects the ability of social media to operate as it was intended, as an ecosystem of touching base with one another.  

Psst!  Dare I say the “u” word (unionize)?  If all of us organize, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, whose expressed purpose is to supply legal templates to be implemented for the sake of corporations), and other anti-labor, anti-union groups will have a harder time preventing employee sharing.

Long live acting in concert, mutual aid and improving wage and working conditions!

Originally posted to mariesamuels on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 04:28 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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