Labor Board Rules Against Union E-mails

In a case involving the Eugene Register-Guard and a former employee, the National Labor Relations Board has issued a ruling restricting the ability of labor unions to communicate using company e-mails.

From the New York Times:

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers have the right to prohibit workers from using the company’s e-mail system to send out union-related messages, a decision that could hamper communications between labor unions and their membership.

In a 3-to-2 ruling released on Friday, the board held that it was legal for employers to prohibit union-related e-mail so long as employers had a policy barring employees from sending e-mail for “non-job-related solicitations” for outside organizations.

The ruling is a significant setback to the nation’s labor unions, which argued that e-mail systems have become a modern-day gathering place where employees should be able to communicate freely with co-workers to discuss work-related matters of mutual concern.

The ruling involved The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Eugene, Ore., and e-mail messages sent in 2000 by Suzi Prozanski, a newspaper employee who was president of the Newspaper Guild’s unit there. She sent three e-mail messages about marching in a town parade and urging employees to wear green to show support for the union in contract negotiations.

The ruling allows employers to ban union-related e-mails, but not e-mails for some other organizational activities:

“An employer has a ‘basic property right’ to regulate and restrict employee use of company property,” the board’s majority wrote. “The respondent’s communications system, including its e-mail system, is the respondent’s property.”

Labor leaders attacked the decision, calling it part of board rulings that have favored employers and undercut workers.

“Anyone with e-mail knows that this is how employees communicate with each other in today’s workplace,” said Jonathan Hiatt, general counsel for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “Outrageously in allowing employers to ban such communications for union purposes, the Bush labor board has again struck at the heart of what the nation’s labor laws were intended to protect — the right of employees to discuss working conditions and other matters of mutual concern.”

The board overturned several decisions it had made in ruling that an employer does not illegally discriminate against pro-union speech if it lets employees use e-mail for personal communications but bars them from using e-mail for solicitations for outside organizations.

Adopting another new policy, the board appeared to allow employers to bar e-mail for certain organizational activities, like promoting a union or Avon products, but not organizational activities related to charities.

The dissenters said the majority’s decision, in allowing employers to bar solicitation with regard to some activities and not others, “would allow employees to solicit on behalf of virtually anything except a union.”

Read the rest
. Discuss.

  • DavidS (unverified)

    I'd bet the Register Guard would be on the other side of this issue if it involved free speech on the U of O campus or free press issues. But when it comes to their unionized employees, they are just like any other employer. They will do whatever is necessary to protect their profits and their control of the workplace. When more people start seeing this reality (again) and standing together in solidarity, we'll all be better off. Locally, in addition to supporting their unions and not crossing picket lines, Oregonians can also support Jobs With Justice. Making sure the Republicans don't win the Presidency or take control of Congress is also important so that this Bush NLRB can be retired.

  • rural resident (unverified)

    This ruling isn't really surprising, since the Bush administration appoints the members of the NLRB. After the Dems take control of the Presidency next year and expand their control over the legislative machinery, look for a new law that will allow the appropriate use of technology in the workplace and reverse this decision.

  • (Show?)

    I will be looking with interest to see if the DP does in fact follow up on this and other promises to organized labor.

    My memory is hazy but I believe the NLRA specified from 1937 and still does that unions once recognized had and have a right to physical bulletin board space in workplaces for organizational purposes, despite employers' "basic property right[s]." E-mail is not an exact equivalent, but something like a right to use work computers to access a union website & brief notification that there was something to check might be comparable.

    On the other hand, to an extent these restrictions might be comparable to companies attempting to prevent workers from talking about union matters on lunch breaks.

    A useful reminder of the profound ways in which the U.S. is not a democratic society.

  • Strictly Anonymous (unverified)

    As a politically involved Republican I just want to say that it seems at first glance this ruling is nothing more than 21st century union busting.

    Certainly the company owns the e-mail service, but they should allow equal networking access to all employees union or not, because after all it is a business related affair and nobody forced the employer in question to accept a union contract in the first place.

  • Strickly RINO (unverified)

    As an even more staunchly Republican, I believe that this illegal action will have to be reversed once Bush leaves office and we purge the NLRB, DOJ, and in fact all facets of government that has been corrupted by the Bush regime. This is a frontal attack on all workers, and must be reversed at once. The means of production must be placed back into the hands of the workers, and their freedom of assembly must not be infinged upon.

  • (Show?)

    I might be a generally pro-union progressive, but them that buys the bandwidth gets to decide what goes on it.

    Were these messages sent by officers of an officially certified union at the company? Or was it an attempt to organize?

    I agree with the union lawyers who say email is now a primary form of communication. As such, anybody can go get a free email account and start using it. Frankly, why would union people WANT to use company email? They have no right to privacy in such a case.

    I'd be curious to see more details about the circumstances.

  • Ten (unverified)

    I'd have to agree with Torridjoe. These days it's remarkably easy and cheap to set up your own website/email service, so why wouldn't a union want to supply its members with private union e-mail addresses?

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Actually, there are an even number of appointees selected to the board under the NLRA as passed back in the 30's. 3 from each party. I too, find this ruling problematic in that it does stifle legitimate employee communication. Then again, the workers at the paper in Eugene can use other, less easily identified means of communications.

    The servers, terminals and bandwidth belong to the company.

  • (Show?)

    Since employers have already established the right to read everything sent and received by employees using company email, from a practical standpoint you'd think unions would encourage employees to sign up for one of the free email services available to them in order to keep employers in the dark about their activities.

    But trying to hold employees responsible for emails they receive seems ridiculous. I can't imagine a real court would enforce this since no one really has control over the emails they receive at work or anywhere else (check your spam folder if you doubt this.)

  • Chris (unverified)

    "After the Dems take control of the Presidency next year...look for a new law..."

    Just like the new Democratic Congress did for Iraq?

    Perhaps the new law will be like California Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman's (chairwoman of a Homeland Security subcommittee), you know, the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act." (HR 1955).

    We still have a president who lies about torture and who's talking about challenging that in the name justice?

  • Robert G. Gourley (unverified)

    This is similar to a situation we, SEIU Local 503, has with OSU - involving an eMail I sent. The idea is a version of trespassing, whereby my eMail ended up on their server.

    The issue ultimately got resolved, I forget how, but I'll see if I can find out. It may have been negotiated away.

  • inhicheSeet (unverified)

    this much it is necessary , for people

  • Ms. Mel Harmon (unverified)

    I am in a union and I work for a union, so I deal with this issue regularly. I understand that the equipment and servers belong to the employer and that anything that is done on said equipment or using their email address is not private---we remind our members of this all the time. But it is a fact of life that it email is a primary form of communication and most of our contracts have included access to and use of email as part of the contract language.

    There a few practical reasons why unions don't simply create their own email accounts/addresses. One, many folks have a work email and a home email address already--and they feel swamped between those two. Adding another email account to check can really feel like overload. Actually, some of our members have two work emails already--one for their actual employer and one for their worksite. So, with a home email, that's three already. Two, most of our member's employers will not permit them to use their work computer to check outside email accounts (and have blocks in the system to prevent it) and many don't have access to the iternet at home; thus they have no way outside of going to a public internet cafe or library to check an outside email address. This creates a hardship on the member to stay informed about their union's happenings.

    Certainly, any union or union member with any sense will not discuss sensitive (ie--bargaining, contract, grievance, etc) information on their work email. They know its not confidential. But prohibiting work emails from use for information distribution about union happenings, meetings, etc. if prohibitive and smacks of union-busting.

  • (Show?)

    Robert G.'s comment is interesting, as one might think this an area where public employees stand in a different relationship to the public employer than in the private sector (as with faculty organizing).

    Also interesting in light of U of O's recent stance on student privacy.

    Guess this thread also illustrates why numbers of workers may not trust "progressives" to look out for their interests.

    Not sure that owning the computers and servers leads to "owns the bandwidth."

    Does an employer own the air inside the building? Can an employer legally sanction someone for using its air to speak to someone else about a union?

    The principle with the bulletin boards was that the workplace is the thing that all the workers have in common & where a union can be best assured of reaching all of its members. On the other hand, getting people to sign up for an outside list might create a pressure for more effective continuing organizing.

  • platinumbobbydog (unverified)

    Hi all!

    Can you tell me your opinion about this site: - I've purchased some deca and sust What do you think?

    see you

  • (Show?)

    Spam alert!

    The one right above this and another one part way up. Go ahead and delete this along with those.

  • ThouhMuhnuani (unverified)

    Espionage photos of new model Nokia N200 here: It not a deceit?

  • CreativeSusan (unverified)


    Yes you read it right ! DELL is giving away Free Laptops to the first few early birds.


    The process is very quick. Within 4 working days I got my DELL XPS


    Keep this information only to forum members.

    Luv Susan

  • Emaittylelt (unverified)

    The person is slowly getting used to cars, mostly to the news, which are tied with the past. Either it is its manufacturer or it is its design but they have something in common. Nowdays, as concerns "alived" cars, they are mostly sport cars. The "Fathers" of today?s followers was somehow special for their age, they had something inside themselves what is alived to this times. Why had it been constructing cars which have their rootes in 50-ties, 60 –ties and 70 – ties. People know how to honour this jewel which survives even 50 years and therefore these cars are so exceptional. What do the years 1968-1973 and 2006 have in common? The only one thing, the collocation Opel GT! NEW foto is here

in the news

connect with blueoregon