We previously discussed how unions are developing technology to assist in organizing. [See, “Secret Union Organizing via Handheld Social App”]. Verizon has turned the table and decided to harness technology to help prepare for a possible union strike.
Verizon’s contract with the Communications Workers of America and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) expired, and the unions approved a strike. Although the parties resumed contract negotiations, Verizon remains concerned about the possibility of a strike given that these unions went on a two-week strike when the parties last negotiated their contract in 2011. With the risk of a strike looming, Verizon updated its company phones and tablets with a mobile application that can record photos and videos. The company explained that the application has three purposes: (1) to provide real-time technical support to replacement workers in the field, (2) to give workers the ability to improve productivity, and (3) to send videos and photos showing striking Verizon workers engaged in illegal activity.
The new app is not without criticism from union officials who consider it a “surveillance” measure. A spokesperson for the IBEW characterized the app as “a bullying tactic to dissuade any protected activity among our members.” Um, isn’t the very definition of a strike to bully the company into surrendering to union demands? Verizon defends its app stating that it is not to be used for surveillance and instead it is intended to be used to document and report unlawful activity.
The announcement of this mobile app is particularly interesting given that the number of strikes is on an upswing and unions have begun using technological advances to support their organizing. It remains to be seen whether employees will successfully capture unlawful activity through the app and whether the unions will bring any charges related to the app itself or the activities it records.
Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.