Court Backs Union in Email Case, Slams Union Buster

It took nine years, but workers at the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard newspaper finally won the right to use company e-mail to discuss union business.

In a sharply worded ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that the company did not break federal labor laws in 2000, when management disciplined the president of The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA) Local 37194 for using the company’s e-mail system to send three e-mail messages about Guild business. The messages were sent after work hours.

The Guild filed unfair labor practice charges, but the then Bush-dominated NLRB sided with the company regarding two of the e-mail messages. The appeals court overturned that ruling.

The company claimed that e-mail could only be used for business purposes, but the Guild showed that the company’s e-mail system was used by both employees and managers for a wide assortment of news—from baby shower invitations to requests for United Way volunteers.

The appellate judges had some sharp words for the Register-Guard’s union-busting lawyer Michael Zinser. The decision characterized Zinser’s arguments as “simply more distortion than the words can bear.”

The judges also criticized the NLRB, saying its rationale smacked of “a post hoc invention.”

TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer applauded the ruling:

The court’s decision made it clear that the company had discriminated based on union activity. I was at the Court of Appeals when Michael Zinser presented his case, and a jury of kindergarteners could have seen through it. He tried to argue that the union was a special case and could be barred from communicating by company e-mail, even though everyone else was allowed to use it freely.

Click here to read the court’s decision.

James Parks: My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Blog on August 12, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.