As a die-hard management-side labor and employment attorney who has been frustrated with the recent flood of anti-employer decisions coming out of the National Labor Relations Board, I enjoy those infrequent moments when a union experiences a little of that pain – such as in the recent case of Laborers Union Local 91.
To give a little background, all employees (whether unionized or not) have the right under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to engage in concerted activity regarding the terms and conditions of employment for their “mutual aid or protection.” The Board has issued a number of rulings finding that employees’ social media activity (e.g. Facebook posts and likes, and tweets) criticizing, disparaging, and otherwise describing their employers in ways I (and many others) would find offensive is protected under Section 7. (Meaning that the employer cannot discipline or terminate the employee for engaging in seemingly inappropriate behavior against the employer). Unions, of course, have been supportive of these decisions. But it appears that at least one of them did not realize the same rule applies to unions.
In this case, the local union operated a hiring hall, providing workers (who are all union members) to employers. Union members looking for work are maintained on an out-of-work list. After a union member posted messages on Facebook that were critical of the local union leadership, the local union’s Business Manager filed internal union charges against the union member, claiming that the critical comments negatively impacted his ability to run the local union. (Frankly, I didn’t find the messages all that offensive – he accused the leadership of giving journeyman credentials to a political candidate who had not completed the 5-year apprenticeship program, added that they backed certain politicians against the best interests of the union, and called them a “dictatorship.” There was no use of profanity.). The union member was found guilty of the charges, fined $5000, suspended from membership for 24 months, and removed from the out-of-work list. (Wow, that seems pretty severe). He appealed to the international (i.e. parent) union, which overturned the charges and reinstated him. (Whew!)
In the meantime, the union member also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Board against the local union, alleging that the union had violated the NLRA by restraining his exercise of his Section 7 rights. An administrative law judge found that, in fact, the union member was engaged in conduct for the mutual aid and protection of the employees when he posted his Facebook messages, and that the union retaliated against him by removing him from the out-of-work list, which deprived him of employment opportunities.
It astounds me that unions are continually trying to get away with things that they accuse employers of doing – as I’ve noted in some prior blogs, such as “SEIU Fights Its Own Unionization.” So I’m happy to see that they can also be held accountable!