June 19, 2024

Labor Panel to Press Reuters Over Reaction to Twitter Post

The board asserts that the company’s Reuters news division violated the reporter’s right to discuss working conditions when her supervisor reprimanded her for posting a message on the Twitter service that said, “One way to make this the best place to work is to deal honestly with Guild members.”

The author of the post, Deborah Zabarenko, the agency’s environmental reporter in Washington and the head of the Newspaper Guild at Reuters, sent that to a company Twitter address after a supervisor had invited employees to send postings about how to make Reuters the best place to work.

“The next day the bureau chief called me at home,” Ms. Zabarenko said in an interview. “He told me that Reuters had a policy that we were not supposed to say something that would damage the reputation of Reuters News or Thomson Reuters. I felt kind of threatened. I thought it was some kind of intimidation.”

A National Labor Relations Board official confirmed late Wednesday that the board’s Manhattan office had informed Thomson Reuters and the union of the planned complaint. The official, who insisted on anonymity because the complaint had not yet been filed, confirmed that it involved an accusation that the company had violated a worker’s federally protected right to engage in concerted, protected activity with co-workers to improve working conditions.

Typically, the agency warns parties before a formal complaint is filed to encourage settlement of the dispute. If no settlement occurs, an administrative law judge will hear the complaint.

A Thomson Reuters spokeswoman said the company was surprised by the board’s complaint because it did not believe Ms. Zabarenko had even been disciplined. She said the company’s social media guidelines were straightforward and like those at many other companies.

The Newspaper Guild, which represents 420 Reuters employees, has been in contract talks with the company since before the old contract expired 26 months ago.

Last November, the labor board accused a Connecticut ambulance service of illegally firing an employee after she criticized her supervisor on her Facebook page. The board asserted that workers’ criticisms of their bosses or companies in conversations with their co-workers on a social networking site were a protected activity and that employers would generally be violating the law by punishing workers for such statements.

In February, the board announced a settlement with the company, American Medical Response, which agreed to change its blogging and Internet policy, which had barred employees from making disparaging remarks against the company or its supervisors.

Labor law specialists say employees have the right to criticize or disparage their companies or supervisors as part of a conversation aimed at improving working conditions, but do not have the right to merely curse supervisors or make untrue, disloyal statements that damage a company’s reputation.

Peter Szekely, secretary-treasurer of the Newspaper Guild of New York, said the labor board had told the union it planned to file additional charges against Thomson Reuters over a new pay plan and other issues.

Of the Twitter charge, he said, “Management unilaterally implemented a policy that restricts the free speech of its employees, and for a news organization that’s inappropriate.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4f39046f1b0cfa52084027b71049d3b1

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