Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Why Does the NLRB Hate Freedom?

Thinking about heading out for some brewskies with a couple of co-workers after work today? Think again.

Articles about this National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision has been floating around the internet (here and here) and the blogosphere (here and here)for a while now, but I was avoiding writing about it in hope that someone would reveal it as a hoax or one of those urban myths. But now that Harold Meyerson is writing about it in the venerated Washington Post I figure it must be real and I should probably write about it before your employer makes it illegal to read certain ‘hostile’ blogs, even on your free time.

What the hell I blabbering about now, you ask?
On June 7 the three Republican appointees on the five-member board that regulates employer-employee relations in the United States handed down a remarkable ruling that expands the rights of employers to muck around in their workers' lives when they're off the job. They upheld the legality of a regulation for uniformed employees at Guardsmark, a security guard company, that reads, "[Y]ou must NOT . . . fraternize on duty or off duty, date or become overly friendly with the client's employees or with co-employees."

The board majority held that the guards probably would interpret this to be a no-dating rule, pure and simple. In her dissent, member Wilma Liebman wrote that the rule plainly specifies both dating and fraternizing, a term that covers a range of activities that go well beyond (or fall well short of) dating. That certainly was the reason that a San Francisco security guard local of the Service Employees International Union brought the case to the NLRB in the first place: The rule as written could preclude any attempt by the guards to meet to form a union, or even to talk about work-related issues.
It’s a fact well known to many workers, but not admitted by those “in power,” that certain basic American rights – e.g. freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – only apply until you enter the workplace. Then, as Meyerson says, you go from 21st century America to feudal times:
The brave new world that emerges from this ruling looks a lot like the bad old world where earls and dukes had the power to control the lives of their serfs -- not just when the serfs were out tilling the fields but when they retired in the evening to the comfort of their hovels. But then the Bill of Rights in America has never reached very far into the workplace. And now, the strictures on workers' rights within the workplace are being extended without.
But "feudal" sounds so quaint. This actually sounds more Orwellian or a story we would have used not so long ago to scare Americans into fearing Communism. In fact, if Saddam had done this it would have fit nicely on the Bush Administration’s list of “Reasons We Had To Invade Iraq (now that we can’t find those weapons of mass destruction.)”

So what’s the next step? Restricting who workers can talk to even if they’re not co-workers, restricting what workers can read after work, how late they can stay up, what they can eat?