Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Can your boss tell you what to think?

Free speech is a cherished right, and rightly so, but free speech stops being free when Americans are forced to listen to it. Especially in the workplace.

Two bills waiting for a vote in the Legislature, HB 1528 and SB 5446, would give Washington employees a right that should go hand in hand with free speech - the right to ignore their employers' personal views.

This right would be protected under the proposed Worker Privacy Act. President of the Washington State Labor Council Rick Bender explains what this is all about:
In a simple and straightforward manner the Worker Privacy Act extends workers’ first amendment rights to the workplace. Specifically it allows workers the right to choose not to listen to or participate in unwanted communication with their employer on issues of individual conscience – including politics, religion, union organizing, and charitable giving.
Supermarket worker Dan Joy could have used these protections when his boss held daily Bible readings at his store and pressed Joy to attend his church. This past summer, Wal-Mart harassed thousands of its employees at mandatory meetings denouncing Barak Obama’s presidential campaign.

Did Democrats feel that they had the right to refuse to attend such meetings? Probably not, given Wal-Mart’s anti-labor reputation.

This proposal has stirred up some opposition from an obvious quarter. Businesses are leveling bogus complaints about the bills, claiming that the First Amendment and the National Labor Relations Act already protect employees from being forced to listen to unwanted communications, and that passing the bill would force businesses to relocate to other states.

They are just blowing smoke. Those two provisions don’t protect workers. Currently in our state, workers can be forced to listen to unwanted personal speech and can be fired or disciplined if they refuse to do so.

This act would not change an employer’s right to free speech, but only protect the employee from retaliation if they choose to ignore said speech. Violations of the act would be addressed in civil court.

The free exchange of ideas is a cornerstone of democracy and this must be protected, but when people in positions of power are able to retaliate against those who disagree with them, the freedom to turn away from speech should be bestowed.

There's just one thing I wonder about. Would this apply to an employer who has the radio constantly tuned to Rush Limbaugh, or is that too much to ask for?


OpenID rettro96 said...

These bills appear to be a complete waste of time. If my employer was holding these kinds of meetings, I would simply say that I would not be attending due to my freedom to not listen to someone else’s religious or political views. With the many things going on in this state that are wrong, I am disappointed that our state legislature put effort into these bills rather than spending their time more wisely. I guess we need to put more pressure on our representatives to deal with things like opposing the wars, fixing healthcare, reducing poverty, immigration reform, and looking for ways to reduce global climate change. Part of standing up for our rights is standing up on your own and then suing you employer if you are mistreated. I am disappointed that we have to write a law that sets precedent for the obvious.

March 8, 2009 12:29 PM  

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