Do private Facebook groups qualify as union meetings? The National Weather Service Employees Organization thinks they should, and the union says the National Weather Service threatened employees after spying on their group’s conversations.
A complaint filed by NWESO with the Federal Labor Relations Authority alleges Weather Service officials “engaged in the surveillance of internal union communications about and discussions of protected activities” on the union’s “ ‘secret’ (that is, ‘members only’) Facebook page.”
According to NWSEO, the Facebook page acts as a “virtual union meeting that continues 24/7 to accommodate all members, regardless of shift work or time zones,” for its 3,500 NWS employees.
Posts on the union’s private group page included topics such as overtime, hiring delays, merit promotion complaints and comments critical of managers.
The union said it was aware NWS officials gained access to the page for some time, but it’s not sure how, since membership requires approval from page administrators.
NWSEO said managers made “disparaging statements to employees about the contents of confidential discussions” since as early as 2014.
In the last year, NSWEO said Weather Service officials who gained access to the page have made its members well aware they are watching what gets posted, and accused them of making “disparaging remarks to employees” to “chill the vigorous discussion that takes place.”
In one case, NWSEO President Daniel Sobien was sent and intimidating email by NWS director of management and organization, David Murray, after Sobien made a post criticizing management’s failure to fill bargaining unit vacancies.
Murray later forwarded that email to hundreds of NWS managers and supervisors nationwide.
A July 28 statement released by NWSEO condemned the Weather Service, stating “this type of surveillance of private union business interferes with and retrains employees’ rights to engage in valuable discussions.”
FLRA hasn’t ruled on the legality of managers monitoring private social media groups since it’s the first case of its kind.
But, a recent ruling from National Labor Relations Board found supervisors can still be engaged in illegal surveillance if they are found spying on public Facebook posts of union members.