County negotiates new social media policy with CWA

After almost two years of litigation, Local 1085 has reached a settlement with Gloucester County that recognizes employees' speech rights as well as management's obligation to negotiate terms and conditions of employment with the union.

In March of 2012, without notice to the union and without prior negotiations, the Gloucester County Freeholder Board adopted a policy restricting employees' use of Facebook and other social media. Among other things, it required employees to be "respectful" toward others, including the County, and prohibited employees from posting pictures of County property or other audio or visual content related to "co-workers, customers, or residents" without written permission.

After the County refused to rescind the policy, Local 1085 President Rich Dann filed an unfair practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), alleging that the policy infringed on protected speech and was adopted illegally, without negotiation. The policy was revised by the County in March of 2013, again without notice to the union. Local 1085 responded by amending the charge to include additional violations. In the meantime, two Local 1085 officers, Vince Gattuso and Mike Blaszczyk, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the County's policy violated their First Amendment rights of free speech.

After settlement discussions proved unavailing, Dann filed a motion for summary judgment with PERC. Eventually the parties agreed to mediate the dispute in December 2013. The result was a negotiated agreement to amend the social media policy.

The new policy requires that employees be respectful to others when using social media if there is a work relationship between them. However, it recognizes that employees have the right to express their opinions about working conditions and matters of public concern, as well as matters that do not involve the County.

Local 1085 was represented by President Dann and union attorney Annmarie Pinarski. The County was represented by County Counsel Matt Lyons and attorney Chris Orlando.