News Column

Politics Muddies Hispanics United Social Media Case

Feb 5, 2013

Jerry Zremski

Tired of the taunts from a critical colleague, Mariana Cole-Rivera, an employee at Hispanics United of Buffalo, took to the 21st century method of complaint.

"Lydia Cruz, a coworker, feels that we don't help our clients enough at HUB," she wrote on Facebook on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. "I about had it! My fellow coworkers how do u feel?"

Little did she know it at the time, but with those words, Cole-Rivera wrote the first phrases of a morality tale that's still playing out amid two of the uncomfortable realities of modern life: social media and political partisanship.

Fired after her boss saw their Facebook conversation about working conditions at the small Buffalo nonprofit, Cole-Rivera and four of her former colleagues filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to try to regain their jobs and back pay. And last December, they won.

What's more, they won the first-ever federal edict on how far workers can go when discussing their work on social media.

Facebook is similar to the water cooler.

"Employees have a protected right to discuss matters affecting their employment amongst themselves," the NLRB ruled.

But now that ruling is in question, all because President Obama -- unable to get his nominees to that labor board past Republicans in the Senate -- appointed them via an end-around that a federal appeals court just ruled unconstitutional.

In other words, it's suddenly unclear what the Hispanics United case will turn out to be.

It could be a labor-law free-speech landmark that gives employees the freedom to discuss work on Facebook and Twitter. Or it could be yet another casualty of the never-ending war between Democrats and Republicans.

Source: (c)2013 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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