The NLRB Was a Busy Beaver Last Week

By Jon Hyman

Dec. 15, 2014

Late last week, the NLRB made huge news. In Purple Communications, the NLRB ruled that employees have a right to use their employers’ email systems during non-working time to communicate about union issues. For more on this case, I suggest checking out the write-ups by my friends Dan Schwartz and Seth Borden, both of whom did an excellent job summarizing the decision and its import.

In response to Purple Communications, employers should be reviewing, and, if necessary, revising, their email and electronic-communications policies to ensure that they do not prohibit employees from engaging in conversations about union issues during non-working time.

To cap its week, the Board next issued its rules for ambush elections in representation proceedings.

While the email ruling is the sexier of the two issues, the election rules will likely have the more significant impact on your business. In fact, I agree with Eric Meyer that Purple Communications is not that big of deal. Yes, it is troubling that the NLRB is ignoring the property rights employers have in their own email systems. But, in reality, I wonder if employees are using their company’s email systems for this purpose. There are so many other modes of communications available to employees. They can text each other. They can message on Facebook. The fact is that unions are increasingly more technologically sophisticated in their organizing tactics, and I wonder how many are relying on corporate email systems for communication. Moreover, if employees are using your email systems for organizing, then you have the right and the ability to read those emails. If you can have access to unions’ organizing secret sauce, is this access all that bad for employers?

In response to the election rules, employers need to adopt what I call the “TEAM” response to union organizing:

  • Train supervisors
  • Educate employees
  • Accessibility
  • Modernize policies

You can read more about this philosophy of union avoidance here. The point is that once a union files its petition seeking a representation election, you will have scant time to respond. You will not have time to launch a full-blown counter-campaign. If your supervisors do not know how to spot potential organizing before it becomes an issues, and if you don’t have a game plan in place long before its needed, you will have a difficult, if not impossible, time engaging in a meaningful response to the union. If you can’t effectively communicate your message to your employees, you will have a difficult time convincing those employees to vote against the union.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at

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