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Unionbusting 2.0
Written by Erin Johansson   
May 05, 2008

eyelogo75.jpg As more jobs stray from the traditional 9 to 5 office scenario, employee discussions over lunch in the break room are becoming a thing of the past.  Email has in many ways filled that gap, enabling employees to communicate about issues of common interest. 

But at Uloop, a social networking site aimed at college students, workers were fired 20 minutes after they first discussed forming a union on the company’s online message boards. 

The employees filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that their termination was illegal because their communication was protected by labor law.  This charge will likely be a test of the precedent-setting Register-Guard case, where the Labor Board denied protections for employees who email each other about union-related issues, failing to recognize technological advancements in workplace communication.  

Because its employees work on campuses across the country, Uloop set up an online message board so they could communicate with each other.  According to Valleywag, when Uloop employees Austin Garrido and Sarah Doolittle realized that their pay was cut without warning, they raised the prospect of organizing a union on the message board.  The company responded by firing the two and removing their posts—but only after they called each employee who commented on the thread. 

If the employees’ communication had taken place in person, the NLRB would likely find the company’s retaliation illegal.  Yet in the Register-Guard decision, the Republican majority gave employers “virtually unlimited discretion” to deny employees their free speech rights through email, as described by the dissenting opinion. 

The NLRB should be helping a new generation of workers like Garrido and Doolittle—who see unions as a way to advance their rights—to employ the latest technology to organize their coworkers.  If the agency throws out their case in response to Register Guard, we’ll see that there is nothing virtual about the damage done to workers’ rights by the Bush Board.