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    Two Cases: Labor Relations

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    Betty Nelson worked as an emergency medical technician for the First Alert Medical Response ambulance service in Redfern, Idaho. One day in a meeting with her supervisor, Nelson was asked to write an incident report responding to a customer's complaint concerning her service on a recent ambulance call. Nelson requested that she be allowed to meet with her local union representative prior to completing her written incident report. Nelson's supervisor denied her request. Later that evening after Nelson's work shit was over she returned home and posted some negative comments about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page. For example, Nelson posted that "Looks like I'm getting some time off. Love how the company allows a 17 to be a supervisor." (Note: A 17 is the company code used to describe a psychiatric patient.) The comments were read by several co-workers who responded to Nelson with messages of support. Nelson then proceeded to post some additional negative comments about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page.
    The company was made aware of Nelson's Facebook posting by an unknown source. The company temporally suspended Nelson and after confirming that the negative remarks had been posted to her Facebook page, she was terminated. The company's termination letter cited a blogging and Internet posting policy published in the Employee Handbook which prohibited employees from making disparaging comments when discussing the company or any of its supervisors and prohibited employees from depicting the company in any way over the Internet without receiving prior approval from an authorized company official.
    Nelson's union representative filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board on her behalf. The union argued that the comments Nelson made on her personal Facebook page constituted "free speech" which she was entitled to make. Employees have a right to discuss terms and conditions of employment with co-workers even if those comments might be interpreted as negative by a management official. The union further alleged that the company also committed an unfair labor practice by denying Nelson a chance to speak with her union representative during the investigatory meeting with her supervisor. Finally, the union charged that the blogging and Internet policy relied upon by the company as the basis for Nelson's discharge was overly broad in restricting employee' use of communications media like Facebook.

    1) Does an employer have any legal rights to discipline or discharge an employee for comments the employee makes about the company?
    2) If you were representing the company in this case and the NLRB regional director asked if you would be willing to settle the union's charges voluntarily, would you do so or would you insist on your legal right to the formal NLRB hearing on the charges? Explain your reasoning.
    3) Did the company commit an unfair labor practice by (1) discharging Nelson for her Facebook postings, (2) denying Nelson an opportunity to meet with her local union representative during an investigatory meeting with her supervisor, or (3) enforcing an overly broad blogging and Internet use policy?

    On the Saturday prior to the 2011 Super Bowl, the NFL Players Association sought to purchase broadcast time during a college all-star game to air a 30-second commercial. The commercial included photo shots of empty football stadiums and a padlocked gate with a voice-over saying "Let us play," and "Let them play," followed by the union's president, Kevin Mawae saying "We want to play." The ad provided a Web site address where viewers could get more information about the labor dispute between NFL players and owners and urged viewers to sign a petition. The CBS College Sports Network refused to air the message because it was connected to labor negotiations. CBS is one of the major networks that has a contractual agreement with the National Football League to broadcast professional football games.

    1) Should the NFL Players' Association be permitted to purchase ad time for the purpose of broadcasting a message seeking public support for its position during labor negations?

    2) What do you think about the union strategy of attempting to communicate its position to the public through the use of television media? If permitted, would the strategy likely be successful from the union's point of view?

    3) Should NFL owners protest the union's attempted use of the media to communicate its position directly to the public, should the owners prepare a commercial message of their own for possible broadcast, or should the owners say nothing and avoid the issue? Explain your rationale.

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    Solution Preview

    1) An employer has legal rights to discipline or discharge an employee for the comments the employee makes about the company. First, the employee handbook prohibits employees from making disparaging comments when discussing the company or its supervisors and the handbook also prohibits employees from depicting the company in any way over the internet without receiving prior approval. On her Facebook page, Nelson says says that the company allows a psychiatric patient to be a supervisor. This not merely reflects on the supervisor but also on the company. According to the NLRB, Nelson can criticize the company on the internet but there is no evidence that the supervisor was a psychiatric patient. She also made additional negative comments about her supervisor on her facebook page. As this is a violation of work rules, Nelson can be terminated or disciplined. Nelson can also be disciplined or terminated because of personality or attitude problems. The fact that she has called her supervisor a psychiatric patient is a behavior that can presented in court or to an NLRB officer as evidence that Nelson has severe attitude problems and should be discharged.
    2) if I were representing the company in this case and the NLRB regional direction asked if I would be ...

    Solution Summary

    The answer to this problem explains two cases relating to labor relations. The references related to the answer are also included.