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The NLRB Says Facebook Comments Cannot be an Online Extension of a Picket Line

On February 12, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB“) issued its decision in the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local Union, AFL-CIO (Veolia Transporation Services, Inc., Phoenix Division) and Charles Weigand case. One of the key questions raised in this case was how to define a “picket line” in regards to social media.

In this case, some employees used their Union’s Facebook page to post threatening comments towards certain of their co-workers who refused to participate in a strike against their employer. The comments posted on Facebook were aimed at making all the employees feel pressured to go on strike in order to make their employer break. The comments were intimidating and put high pressure on the employees who refused to go on strike. The question was whether Facebook comments could be considered an electronic extension of Respondent’s picket line.

The NLRB answered the question by concluding that: “Respondent’s Facebook page is in no way ‘an electronic extension’ of its picket line. Initially, it may be noted that the Facebook page existed well before the picket line.” Indeed, the Union Facebook page does not serve to communicate to a message to the world. Besides the first comments were posted on the Facebook page of the Union two months before the strike began. Therefore, the Facebook page comments did not grow out of the strike. Besides, the NLRB added that: “a picket line serves a purpose quite distinct from that of the Facebook page. A picket line proclaims to the public, in a highly visible way, that the striking union has a dispute with the employer, and thus seeks to enlist the public in its effort to place economic pressure on the employer. The picket signs notify sympathetic members of the public not to purchase the employer’s goods or services. The picket line also signals to employees–both employees of the struck employer and, in certain instances, employees of other employers–that there is a labor dispute, to the end that these employees will not cross the picket line but instead will withhold their services. Thus, a picket line makes visible in geographic space the confrontation between the two sides. In contrast, Respondent’s Facebook page does not serve to communicate a message to the public. To the contrary, it is private. Moreover, it does not draw any line in the sand or on the sidewalk.”

This decision of the NLRB ignores that social media have an inner public reach that may be comparable to picket lines under some circumstances. Instead, the NLRB decided that the comments on Facebook were “private” because they were posted on a Facebook page that was private. However, the fact that the page was private did not prevent the employees from sharing the comments posted on the page via other means, such as printing them or showing them to other employees who did not have access to the page.

If you are an employee and you believe your rights have been violated or if you believe you have a claim under the NLRA, please contact the Harman Firm P.C.

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