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The District of Columbia federal appeals court ruled that DirecTV Inc. committed an unfair labor practice when it had contractor technicians fired for complaining about a pay dispute with the company on a TV news program. (DirecTV Inc. v. Nat’l Labor Relations Board, No. 11-1273 (D.C. Cir. 2016)).

DirecTV contracts with MasTec to install satellite television receivers in customers’ homes. The MasTec employees, based in Orlando, Florida, claimed they were pressured to convince customers to connect satellite service through a phone line in order to track viewing habits and increase pay-per-view business. The workers claimed management told them to do “whatever it took” to get customers to agree, including lying and installing phone lines without their knowledge. In 2006, under financial pressure from DirecTV, MasTec began docking the pay of technicians who didn’t meet quotas for phone line hookups.

After technicians complained to management, MasTec and DirecTV refused to change their policies. When a protest outside MasTec also failed to settle the matter, a group of MasTec technicians contacted a local TV news station, which interviewed them wearing their DirecTV uniforms. The report addressed the technicians’ grievances concerning the pay policy and their belief that they were being told to lie to customers; it also suggested that these phone connections could cost consumers more money.

DirecTV told MasTec it did not want the technicians in the broadcast representing DirecTV in customers’ homes, and MasTec then fired nearly all the technicians who participated.

Under the National Labor Relations Board’s interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act, “Employee communications to third parties in an effort to obtain their support are protected where (i) the communication indicate[s] it is related to an ongoing dispute and (ii) it is not so disloyal, reckless or maliciously untrue as to lose the Act’s protection.” Continue reading