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Playing with their food at the Capitol

Posted at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2007 by Bob Collins

One time, when I was a young reporter at a small Massachusetts radio station and worked the night shift. I typed up a "memo to employees" that said "the union meeting scheduled for tomorrow night has been cancelled." It wasn't signed and there was no union meeting. Then I left it upside down on the copying machine as if I'd made several copies and forgot to remove the original. Then I went home.

The next day,the management was going crazy. The boss was literally driving to people's homes to find out what they knew about a union. It was great fun, and it was like playing with your food, since the mere prospect of a union is enough to drive small employers -- and many big ones -- to such distractions.

Anyway a good example of how things can change with a single election is happening today at the Capitol. A House Committee is hearing HF611, which protects workplace communication between labor unions and employees.

This bill would've been dead on arrival when the Republicans were in charge, but it stands a good chance of passing this year.

The bill says:

An employer may not refuse to hire a job applicant or discipline or discharge an employee because the applicant or employee has received or responded to a communication from an employee organization or labor organization. Nor shall an employer prohibit an employee from receiving communications from an employee organization at their work location, work mailbox, in an employee break room or meal area, or on their work computer.

Employers argue that they have the right to regulate the use of their computers and their employers, and don't think the state has the right to interfere with whatever policies they deem appropriate for how employees spend their time.

If the business doesn't have a union, a civil action for damages could be initiated by the employee. I figure this is one of those bills where there's a story behind the story and I'm anxious to hear it. House authors are: Anzelc; Solberg; Lillie; Murphy, E.; Rukavina; Moe; Slocum; Bly.

The hearing is being covered by House TV and is Webcast here.

I can't wait for the floor debate.