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The UAW Strike, the NLRA, and Labor Laws for Independent Dealers

The United Auto Workers (UAW) have been on strike since September 15, 2023. As reported by Cox, this strike has broad implications for the auto industry as a whole. The workers striking are protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Did you know the NLRA covers both union and nonunion employers? With that in mind, in this blog we will look at two ways the NLRA impacts your business even though your employees are not unionized.

The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of rights relating to organizing, forming, joining, or assisting a labor organization for collective bargaining purposes or from working together to improve terms and conditions of employment or refraining from any such activity. Similarly, labor organizations may not restrain or coerce employees to exercise these rights. However, far fewer realize these rights extend to union and nonunion employees and overlook some of the protections of the NLRA.

The Right to Discuss Wages
Under the NLRA, employees can communicate with other employees about their wages.  Wages are considered a vital term and condition of employment, and discussions of wages are often considered a preliminary step to organizing. Protected conversations about wages may take on many forms, including discussions about how much employees and managers make, joint requests concerning pay to the employer; organizing a union to raise your wages; and approaching an outside union for help in bargaining with pay.

In addition, employees are allowed to discuss and engage in outside activity with other employees concerning public issues that may affect their wages – for example, minimum wage or right-to-work laws. They may also discuss supporting employees who work elsewhere.

Criticizing the Workplace on Facebook
In the pivotal legal case involving Karl Knauz Motors, Inc. d/b/a Knauz BMW and Robert Becker, the complexities of workplace speech on social media under the NLRA came to the forefront. The case delved into two distinct Facebook posts, shedding light on the intricate nuances of NLRA-protected speech.
 
The first post centered around a new car launch event for the BMW 5 Series. Becker and his colleagues expressed their disappointment with the event's arrangements, particularly the meager offerings of a hot dog cart, Doritos, and cookies. Their discontent was evident in statements like, “I can't believe we're not doing more for this event,” highlighting their frustration. Despite the sarcastic tone, the court deemed this post as protected speech under the NLRA, emphasizing that the criticism, although sharp, did not cross the line of losing its protected status.
 
The second Facebook post narrated a peculiar incident involving a customer's 13-year-old son, who accidentally drove a car into a pond during a test drive. Becker, amused by the incident, posted pictures and comments, adopting a mocking tone. However, this post, lacking any dialogue or coordination with colleagues, failed to meet the criteria for protected concerted activity. The court ruled it was an isolated act, devoid of connection to collective workplace concerns, and therefore not shielded by the NLRA.
 
What emerges from this case is a profound understanding of the delicate balance between workplace speech and the boundaries set by labor laws. While the NLRA safeguards employees' rights to discuss workplace conditions and criticize employer practices, it requires a certain level of collective intent and relevance to workplace concerns. Becker's case underscores the importance of considering not just the tone of the speech but also its context and connection to broader workplace issues.
 
Employers and employees alike are left with a crucial lesson: social media posts, even if laced with sarcasm, can be protected under the NLRA if they address collective workplace matters. However, isolated incidents lacking such connection fall outside the realm of NLRA protection.
 
This precedent-setting case provides valuable insights into navigating the intricate landscape of social media speech within the framework of labor laws.

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