On July 21 the Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) eliminated the special legal protections enjoyed by union grievance handlers for the past 70 years. In the interest of promoting workplace “civility,” the Board announced that employers will no longer be restrained from disciplining or discharging stewards or officers who use profanity or engage in other “abusive” actions in violation of an employer’s enforced code of conduct, even when these actions happen in the course of heated meetings with management.
Basically, for decades workers have had the right to curse out bosses in the context of union business without being punished for it. This has been backed up by NLRB decisions going back to the Truman years. But not anymore.
General Motors discusses three union scenarios: grievance meetings, social media posts, and picket lines.
Grievance meetings. Grievance meetings are well-known flash points. HR personnel often goad union representatives with insults, jokes about vocabulary, or simply by playing dumb. At the same time, they defend trampling on the contract. It is not surprising that stewards become angry.
Before General Motors, “salty” responses such as “You’re talking shit” or “Stop acting like an asshole” could not serve as grounds for warnings or more severe discipline. Under the Board’s new standard, employers can discipline militant leaders in the hope of sending a chill through the workforce.
Social media posts. Union members have historically been able to post vivid comments about managers on social media. After all, conduct outside the workplace is traditionally off-limits for employer discipline. In 2015, for example, the Board ruled that a company violated the NLRA when it discharged a poster for calling a manager a “nasty motherfucker.”
Under its new standards, the Board is likely to uphold penalties for “abusive language” up to and including discharge.
Picket lines. The NLRB has long afforded protection to picket line banter, even when strikers used obscenities or made ad hominem personal attacks. Comments were only considered lawful grounds for discipline if they involved a threat of physical harm or included substantial racial or gender taunts.
General Motors permits employers to discipline strikers for picket line language that violates the employer’s enforced civility code, adding another risk to hitting the bricks.
It’s total war against unions. And of course it would be GM pushing this.