This story didn’t show up on the usual arts blogging sites, but it might well have been the most important news for our field in a while:
In what labor officials and lawyers view as a ground-breaking case involving workers and social media, the National Labor Relations Board has accused a company of illegally firing an employee after she criticized her supervisor on her Facebook page.
This is the first case in which the labor board has stepped in to argue that workers’ criticisms of their bosses or companies on a social networking site are generally a protected activity and that employers would be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements.
Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, said, “This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that.”
That act gives workers a federally protected right to form unions, and it prohibits employers from punishing workers — whether union or nonunion — for discussing working conditions or unionization. The labor board said the company’s Facebook rule was “overly broad” and improperly limited employees’ rights to discuss working conditions among themselves.
Moreover, the board faulted another company policy, one prohibiting employees from making “disparaging” or “discriminatory” “comments when discussing the company or the employee’s superiors” and “co-workers.”
As the Detroit Symphony management discovered last month, social media is used by orchestra musicians. But they’re not the only management to have been burned in this way.
An orchestra I know had a recent incident that came close to a public train wreck. A member of an audition committee posted on Facebook – during the audition – that he wasn’t very impressed with the calibre of candidates. As several members of the local press were FB friends with this musician, they saw this within minutes and began to run with it, although they didn’t get too far before the orchestra’s PR staff was able to put out the “nothing to see here; move along” message and make it stick. Much heavy breathing within the orchestra’s labor relations sub-culture ensued, resulting in a formal policy regarding musicians and social media – which, of course, was itself controversial.
And then there was the concertmaster of a certain large orchestra in the Pacific Northwest who responded to being fired by launching a blog devoted to the topic of… his being fired. As he was free to say anything he wanted (subject, of course, to the normal law of libel) while management was advised to say nothing, the resulting public perception about the matter was a little one-sided.
Someday we’ll all have fMRI scanners embedded in our heads, streaming live to the Internet. I wonder what the NLRB will have to say about that. In the meantime, FB and smart phones are just about as dangerous.