When the Boss Bargains in the Press
Usually union and management have non-disclosure agreements, but what about trolling on social media?
When a union is going through bargaining many locals and the companies that they are negotiating with tend to be quiet about what is going on. They understand that bargaining in the press is often the last resort that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. However, a case in Oregon raises the question of whether the use of social media could be considered bargaining in the press.
The case involved AFSCME Local 328, which represents employees at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). They are currently in some contentious bargaining and were forced to declare an impasse in July. Shortly after the impasse was declared their social media accounts began being trolled by a user named “Aanus McFadden” and another user named “Roy Vragina.” The activity was more annoying than malicious for the account admin who knew the accounts were troll accounts based on the questions that they were asking and the fact that each only had one follower. When the union took a deeper look into who the trolls were, they saw that Vragina’s only follower was a user named Frengle whose picture looked suspiciously familiar. The picture was familiar because it was of OHSU bargaining team member Patrick Frengle.
Of course, the union muted the trolls and thought that was it, an isolated incident. However, Frengle couldn’t let sleeping dogs lie. On August 1, when the union launched their Meme Contest on Facebook, both troll accounts shared memes that misrepresented the union’s position on certain economic issues that were being negotiated. The McFadden account also shared a spreadsheet that misrepresented the cost of the local’s union dues. This was a document that Frengle would have had access to since he works in the budget & financial planning department. The troll accounts also began following the social media accounts of members of the unions bargaining committee.
While a troll on Twitter or Facebook might seem small and petty, the harassment of the union and the release of internal bargaining documents is a serious breach of trust. Sites like Facebook and Twitter represent the main way that many Americans get their news and the union’s Facebook and Twitter page is probably the way that many Local 328 members keep in touch with the union. Management clearly realized that this was a breach of trust, as Local 328 reports that they have removed Frengle from the bargaining committee. However, the damage has been done. Fake information has been released and management has used these troll accounts to disseminate the information and then distance themselves from the actions. Is this bargaining in the media? We think so.