Union or No Union: Can an Employer Prohibit Employees from Discussing Unions in the Workplace?

Barstool Sports, a sports and entertainment website that is in the news frequently for a variety of reasons and growing at a rapid pace, recently garnered more attention when its founder, Dave Portnoy, commented on the unionization of another website “The Ringer.”  Specifically, in response to The Ringer’s employees unionizing, Portnoy Tweeted the following:  “Heard @ringer employees want to unionize. Little refresher how I feel about unions” which linked to a prior unfavorable post about the unionization of his workforce.

Portnoy’s Tweet elicited numerous responses, one of which was from journalist Rafi Letzter which stated:  “If you work for Barstool and want to have a private chat about the unionization process, how little power your boss has to stop you, and how you can leverage that power to make your life better: my DMs are open,” responded journalist Rafi Letzter.  Portnoy responded by Tweeting “If you work for @barstoolsports and DM this man I will fire you on the spot.”  Portnoy is now engaged in a Twitter fight with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about his comments.

This blog will not get into the battle between Portnoy and AOC.  What employers need to recognize, however, is that what they Tweet can potentially land them in hot water legally.  Under the National Labor Relations Act, it is unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights, which includes discussing unionizing.  If Portnoy, or any other employer, were to fire an employee for attempting to unionize, then may be subject to an unfair labor practice charge.  Employers are also prohibited from responding to a union organizing drive by threatening, interrogating, or spying on pro-union employees.

While it is likely this fight is merely an effort to draw more clicks to the website, employers should be mindful not to follow Portnoy’s lead when responding to union discussions as doing so may not lead to more Twitter followers, but to more lawsuits. 

For discussions on this area of law and a variety of other employment law topics, please register for our 2019 Labor and Employment Seminar which will be held on September 18, 2019. To register, click the following link and fill out the registration form: https://www.hhe-law.com/seminars