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Court Says Employers’ Speech Rights Trump Workers’ Right to Know Their Rights

In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a commonsense and evenhanded rule that said employers must post a notice in the workplace to inform workers of their rights. Simply put, the 11 x 17 poster should inform workers of their right to join a union and their right not to join a union.

Yesterday, a trio of Republican-appointed judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the NLRB rule violated the employers’ right of free speech. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the courts’ ruling “absurd.”  

In today’s workplace, employers are required to display posters explaining wage and hour rights, health and safety and discrimination laws, even emergency escape routes. The D.C. Circuit ruling suggests that courts should strike down hundreds of notice requirements, not only those that inform workers about their rights and warn them of hazards, but also those on cigarette packages, in home mortgages and many other areas. The Court’s twisted logic finds that “freedom of speech” precludes the government from requiring employers to provide certain information to employees. This is absurd: when workers know their rights, the laws work as intended.

After the NLRB issued the rule, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and Education Fund Inc., the National Federation of Independent Business and several other business and right-wing groups filed suit.

A judge upheld the rule in March 2012, but the business groups appealed the decision. A spokesperson for the NLRB said the agency is reviewing the decision. The same rule also is being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va.

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