Facebook Creates Union Blocking Tool
The social media giant has created a Workplace tool that blocks employees from talking about unionizing
On June 10th, Facebook held a presentation to talk about a new tool for its Workplace platform. Workplace is Facebook’s attempt to copy the popular intra-office messaging service known as Slack.
Tools like Slack and Workplace are used to discuss projects, coordinate meetings, and share announcements within an office or workplace. With work from home booming during the COVID-19 pandemic, these tools are seeing an explosion of growth. Now, Facebook is testing a new tool that would create a "Trending" tab within workplace so that employers can see what their employees are talking about. The new tool would also allow bosses to blacklist certain words. Facebook revealed the new tool during a presentation last week.
During the presentation, Facebook executives offered one example of a topic employers might find useful to blacklist. Instead of using a common phrase that might distract their employees like Fantasy Football, Facebook decided to use the word “unionize.” This was clearly a calculated decision to show the real use of the product, censoring employees' right to organize. Almost immediately, the decision to use “unionize” as an example sparked fury, both within the Menlo Park Facebook campus and in the labor world. The move sparked a flurry of posts from Facebook employees denouncing the creation of a tool to stop workers from organizing. One Facebook employee who spoke to The Intercept on the condition of anonymity said he saw the blacklisting feature, with a suggested use case around unionization, as a clear effort to give employers the ability to exert control over employees.
The move also got a response from Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, who released a statement saying:
Blacklisting is illegal. Employers censoring their employees’ speech about unionizing is illegal. Facebook relentlessly presents itself as a champion of free speech, yet here it is marketing itself as a way for corporations to suppress the speech of their employees. In the face of the rising collective action against racial and economic injustice, this new tool from Facebook is perhaps unsurprising, but it is also completely unacceptable and illegal.
The AFL-CIO demands that Mark Zuckerberg personally apologize to working people, pull this tool immediately, and conduct a board-level investigation into how this product came into existence in the first place. Furthermore, the AFL-CIO demands Facebook to embrace global labor rights standards for all its 48,000 workers and for its contractors who employ tens of thousands more. That needs to start with committing to being neutral with respect to their employees’ and contract workers’ organizing efforts and recognizing their unions when they can show a majority of their co-workers have signed union cards. We need a full report on this and a full affirmation from Zuckerberg that Facebook will unequivocally support the right to organize and the right to free speech for all workers.
The UAW followed that statement up by saying “Working families deserve better from Facebook. Not only do these tools need to be pulled, Facebook needs to apologize and condemn this effort to deny working families basic rights," said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg.
The idea that Facebook is launching a content control feature in Workplace is almost laughable considering their resistance to control the content on Facebook and Instagram. The company has come under fire for refusing to follow Twitter’s lead in flagging some of Trump’s more violent or untrue posts.
According to The Intercept, Facebook Workplace is already being used by Walmart, Singapore government, Discovery Communications, Starbucks, and Campbell Soup Corporation. Of course, Walmart has a long history of notoriously fighting union efforts in their stores. Starbuck also has a long history of fighting against unions, even leading a decertification election in 1987.
According to Facebook after the backlash from the presentation, Facebook has “pulled any plans to roll it out while we think through next steps.”
The move does come at an interesting time for Facebook as they continue to haphazardly moderate and censor content on their site but at the same time release a product that is only used to censor workers. They are also releasing it at a time when organizing can only be done online, like through portals such as Workplace, Facebook, and Facebook Messanger. This timing isn't a shock. Companies like Walmart and Starbucks were two big winners during the pandemic as they were able to stay open while some of their competitors closed, but their unorganized workforces also didn't get the benefits that employees at union shops like Krogers got. It seems like more than a coincidence that Facebook would launch this censorship tool right as millions of workers are seeing the benefits of joining a union. Shame on Facebook for creating yet another platform that bosses can use to stop workers from organizing.