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Equal Time?

Under a new ruling, you may have to let unions use your e-mail system to promote their platform.

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This story appears in the September 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The laws concerning employees voting for or against a union are generally clear. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employers must provide union organizers with the names and addresses of all eligible employees, but they are not required to allow the organizers to campaign on their premises. Indeed, if there's going to be a union vote at your business, you can paper the halls with your anti-union message and send out daily memos about it without letting union supporters do the same. The chief restriction is that this prohibition be consistent with company policy. So if your policy allows personal use of company telephones on company time, you can't stop employees from calling each other to promote a pro-union vote.

How does the company e-mail system fit into the picture? That's where it gets foggier, thanks to a recent decision by an administrative judge for the National Labor Relations Board. The case concerned agents for Prudential Insurance who narrowly rejected representation by the Office & Professional Employees International Union. Union organizers sued, arguing the company should have allowed them access to the e-mail system to disseminate their arguments.

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