No Need for Workers to Cover Their Mouths Anymore


Pearl River        A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ushers in a new game for workers, saying they can take their mouthguards off and let the words fly about their workplaces, even after they leave the job.  Or, as another gamer, Angel Reese, the star forward and MVP of the NCAA Women’s Basketball LSU Tigers, said after their victory,

this is for the girls that look like me that’s going to speak up on what they believe in — that’s unapologetically you.”

Private sector workers can now also speak up about their jobs, “unapologetically” now that the NLRB has ruled that employer imposed “nondisparagement” clauses are illegal and at variance with workers’ Section 7 organizing rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Disparagement is a fancy, lawyer’s term for talking smack about your job to people off of your job.  Local 100 has had nursing home workers threatened with firing for talking publicly to the press about the conditions in the nursing homes where they work.  The lawyer for the Hyatt Regency insisted on a nondisparagement clause as part of the work rules for housekeepers and laundry workers when we were bargaining the contract with the company.  Assisted living employers regularly demand that workers can face termination if they speak to the families of the consumers about the conditions in the home.  Subcontracted workers from cleaners to cooks to everything in between are regularly threatened that they can’t talk to the big bosses who let the contract about conditions, or they should be looking for another job.  Too many workplaces have not been spaces where the “truth can set you free”, but where the truth can get you fired.

The NLRB, under path-breaking General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo and a Democratic board majority, argued that the Act protects workers trying to improve the terms and conditions of employment on their jobs, therefore employers cannot restrict a worker’s efforts to improve the job by speaking “unapologetically” about what’s it’s really like to work for the company.  This applies to when they are still collecting a check, and after they leave the company’s employment, which is what nondisparagement clauses are trying to restrict as well.

This seems like just commonsense and totally logical, but doggone it took a long time to see a decision that finally lets workers speak up and speak out about the job.  Sharpening the point, the Board says this speech doesn’t have to be “concerted” or involving two or more co-workers.  This speech can be one worker speaking truth to power or to friends, families, and others off the job.  If the pay sucked, they can share the word.  If there were safety and health problems for workers or clients, they could shout it out without fear of retaliation.  Most workers don’t qualify as whistleblowers, but they are experts on where they work or worked, so that’s a whistle they can now blow without looking over their shoulders and do so unapologetically.

This could be a breakthrough for workers everywhere in America.