In Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 [pdf], an National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge ruled that a union did not violate federal labor law by failing to disavow threatening posts made by employees on the union's Facebook. While the legal nuances of the opinion are interesting, this case raises an issue of deeper import for employers. Labor unions are using social media, and using it effectively, to disseminate information to members and to reach potential members during organizing drives.
It is not just labor unions that are using social media and the Internet to engage employees collectively. Employees are using these tools outside the organizational outreach of labor unions.
Case in point—the recent launch of coworker.org. "What is coworker.org?" you're asking yourself. "I've never heard of it." I never had either until I read a post yesterday on the Workplace Prof Blog. Coworker.org, describes itself as a website that allows employees to start, run, and win campaigns to change their workplaces. Employees accomplish this mission on the website by starting online petitions.
To date, coworker.org only has one active campaign. It's against Wal-Mart, seeking the reinstatement of an employee allegedly fired for speaking out against having to work on Black Friday.
I'll be watching coworker.org to see if it gains any traction. Employers should be watching this site too, but not for the reason you think. Retaliation against any employees who post on the site would be illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, as employees have a right to engage in protected concerted activity.
Instead, employers should pay attention to coworker.org for the same reason they should pay attention to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 case, Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere. Employees are online, talking about what is happening in your workplace. The Internet is today's complaint box. If you want to fix problems before they get out of control, you need only turn to social media sites and sites like coworker.org and Glassdoor. If your employees are online complaining about you, should you be paying attention?