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December 27, 2007

NLRB Restricts Union Use Of Email For Union Business

On December 16, 2007, in the case of The Register-Guard, 351 NLRB No. 70, the
National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") held that employees of a newspaper based in Eugene, Oregon, had no statutory right to use their employer's e-mail system for union organizational or business purposes.Accordingly, the NLRB held that the newspaper did not discriminate against pro-union speech when it permitted employees to use e-mail for personal communications but barred the use of e-mail for solicitations by outside organizations, including the labor union.

The Register Guard had disciplined an employee who used the newspaper's e-mail system to urge other employees to support the union in contract negotiations.In previous decisions, the NLRB had held that employers violate the Act if they bar workers from engaging in union-related speech on bulletin boards or telephones but allow workers to communicate via bulletin boards or telephones about other matters.In The Register-Guard, the NLRB distinguished between personal nonwork-related postings, such as for-sale notices and wedding announcements, on the one hand, and "group" or "organizational" postings, such as union materials on the other.The NLRB held that the relevant comparison was between activities or communications of a similar character.Accordingly, as the employer's policy barred the use of email for solicitation by outside organizations generally, not just unions, neither the policy nor the discipline were found to be discriminatory.The NLRB also announced that these new principles would apply to future cases involving alleged discriminatory enforcement of rules governing use of employer property or equipment for communication.

SIGNIFICANCE OF RULING

Prior to the NLRB's decision in Register-Guard, many employers were uncertain about whether they could bar union-related email.The Board's decision clears the way for employers to prohibit union-related email as part of an overall non-solicitation policy, which complies with the above guidelines.