Worker Collective Action in the Digital Age

39 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2015 Last revised: 24 Jul 2018

Jeffrey M. Hirsch

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: December 25, 2014

Abstract

This article explores some of the ways in which employees have used electronic communications to seek better working conditions and argues that this medium will continue to grow in importance. However, several factors currently exist that limit the effectiveness of electronic collective action. In addition to natural limitations on workers’ ability to use electronic media and the effectiveness of those communications, this paper discusses the legal protections that might help to reduce employer resistance to digital collective action. This issue illustrates the Catch-22 of electronic communications: as digital collective action strategies become more accessible and useful, they also become more of a target for employers seeking to thwart employee attempts to improve their working conditions. As described in the article, the legal protections for workplace electronic communications has been in a state of flux. There have been some recent legal gains for employees’ ability to use electronic communications (including the NLRB's new Purple Communications decision, which is discussed in detail), but those protections still fall short in some areas. As workers’ use of electronic communications becomes more widespread and more effective, the need for legal protection will grow. Yet, pressure from employers to resist an increasingly effective tool for employees will grow as well. How this tension ultimately develops will depend on the ability of legislators, regulators, and judges to balance these competing interests.

Keywords: unions, internet, email, NLRA, NLRB, collective action

JEL Classification: J5,K31

Suggested Citation

Hirsch, Jeffrey M., Worker Collective Action in the Digital Age (December 25, 2014). 117 West Virginia Law Review 921 (2015); UNC Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2551117

Jeffrey M. Hirsch (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States
919-962-7675 (Phone)

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