The Love-Hate Relationship of Labor Unions and Social Media

Have labor unions outlived their usefulness? Yes, said nearly half of the Americans polled, according to a recent Rasmussen survey. With only 48% of U.S. workers believing that unions still serve a worthwhile purpose, there is plenty of reasons for the labor movement to market their message.  And social media has been a useful tool for doing so.  For example, see this post about the 14 Ways Unions Are Using Twitter and this AFL-CIO post from 2009 for examples of Social Media Use by Unions for some insight about labor’s efforts in the online space.

But there may be downsides to social media for unions, too.  In this Huffington Post article, Tom Hayes asks, Will Facebook Replace Labor Unions?  Hayes’ basic premise is that, with the rise of online social networking sites, like Facebook, workers don’t need a union to organize.  Instead, employees can communicate outside of the workplace, even if they work different facilities, to discuss the problems they face inside the workplace.

And that, of course, is where the National Labor Relations Act comes into play.  Employees who engage in concerted activity are protected by the NLRA against retaliation and discrimination by their employers in response to their conduct.  As the NLRB has made very clear, these protections apply online just as they do in the workplace.  So, while unions may have reason to worry about their perceived usefulness, employers should be worried, as well, if they are not familiar with how the NLRA limits the ways they can respond to an employee’s Facebook post. 

To learn more about the interplay between the NLRA and social-media

Employees’ Posts Were Protected Activity, Says ALJ

NLRB and Facebook Firings: Employer’s Worst-Case Scenario

The NLRB Approves Facebook Firings

Another Day, Another NLRB Complaint Over Facebook Firing

NLRB OKs Employee Termination for Twitter Posts

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