NLRB to Hear Arguments on Employer E-mail Use for Union Activities

January 12, 2007 ( - The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is inviting interested parties to file briefs and requests to participate in oral arguments for the board's March 27, 2007 hearing in a case in which The Guard Publishing Company is accused of interfering with union activity by barring personal use of its e-mail system by employees.

In February 2002, an administrative law judge found that The Register-Guard, which publishes a daily newspaper in the Eugene, Oregon, area, discriminatorily enforced its policy prohibiting the use of the company’s e-mail system “to solicit or proselytize for commercial ventures, religious or political causes, outside organizations, or other non-job-related solicitations.”

Evidence showed the firm issued warnings to local union president Suzi Prozanski after she sent e-mails to a group of employees relating to union activities, but other employees, including managers, were not disciplined after sending e-mails relating to Weight Watchers meetings, the United Way campaign, parties, and birth announcements.

In the case, the Eugene Newspaper Guild, a local chapter of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), also charged the newspaper with proposing an illegal subject during collective bargaining with the local union and with unlawfully maintaining a policy prohibiting the display of union insignia or signs.

The newspaper proposed contract language prohibiting employees from using its electronics communications systems for union matters. The judge said the initial proposal was not unlawful, but insistence on it after rejection by the union was, and ordered the newspaper to retract its proposal.

As for the policy prohibiting the display of union insignia or signs, the judge pointed out an employee’s right to wear or display union insignia is protected by the law. He also said the evidence did not show that an employee’s wearing of and display of union insignia adversely affected business, and the evidence did show that the newspaper discriminatorily enforced its dress code by allowing others to display insignia such as from sports teams when dealing with the public. The judge ordered a repeal of the newspaper’s policy against union insignia.

The NLRB said briefs on issues raised in the case must be filed with the Board’s Executive Secretary in Washington, DC by February 9, 2007 and should include a request to participate at oral argument, if desired.

More information can be found here .