Business Times

Social media accord ends union dispute with Thomson Reuters

New York - A US union and Thomson Reuters, the global media company, have agreed on a social media policy that preserves employees’ rights to discuss wages, hours and working conditions on Facebook, Twitter and similar networks.

The Newspaper Guild of New York said (on Monday): “Aside from guaranteeing our freedom to express ourselves about job conditions on these networks, the agreement also puts to rest the final dispute the Guild had with Thomson Reuters stemming from the company’s declaration of impasse in contract talks back in January 2010.”

The union had filed an unfair labour practice charge with the US National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) after environment correspondent Deborah Zabarenko, who chairs the union’s unit at Thomson Reuters, was reprimanded for a message she posted on a Reuters Twitter feed. The text of the message, in response to a management request for suggestions on how to make the company “the best place to work,” was: “One way to make this the best place to work is to deal honestly with Guild members.”

The Guild withdrew all other unfair labour practice charges as part of a contract settlement ratified in July. With the social media agreement, finalised on October 20 with an e-mail exchange between its president Bill O’Meara and Reuters Americas Editor Jim Gaines, the Guild has asked the NLRB to withdraw this final charge.

The new social media policy underscores rights workers have under the National Labour Relations Act to publicly discuss working conditions. However, it does not give Guild members a licence to make personal attacks against colleagues or managers, or against individual Thomson Reuters stories or products on social media.

It states: “Our wish is for people to benefit safely from social networks, not to muzzle anyone. Journalists are people too, with all the rights of citizens. If we want to tweet or post about a school play, a film or a favorite recipe, we are free to do so. When dealing with matters of public importance and actual or potential subjects of coverage, however, Reuters journalists should be mindful of the impact their publicly expressed opinions can have on their work and on Reuters. In our Twitter and Facebook profiles, for example, we should identify ourselves as Reuters journalists and declare that we speak for ourselves, not for Thomson Reuters.”

The policy adds: “When writing as Reuters journalists, whether for the file or online, we are guided 24 hours a day by the ethics of our organization as embodied in the Code of Conduct and the Trust Principles, which require us to be responsible, fair and impartial.”

“We expect our journalists to reach conclusions through reporting, but they must also demonstrate the intellectual discipline to keep their conclusions susceptible to further reporting, which requires a posture of openmindedness and enlightened skepticism. This is difficult to demonstrate in the social networks’ short forms and under the pressure of thinking-writing-posting in real time. But maintaining this posture is critical to our credibility and reputation as journalists. When in doubt about a post, tweet or other action on social networks, we must enlist a second pair of eyes, even at the cost of some delay.”

The policy specifically states that nothing in it should be interpreted as inhibiting the exchange of ideas about matters that deal with employees’ common welfare. Nor is there any prohibition on using social media for speech protected by the National Labour Relations Act, such as candidly discussing wages, hours and working conditions.

The tension is clear, says the company. “Social networks encourage fast, constant, brief communications; journalism calls for communication preceded by fact-finding and thoughtful consideration.” It adds: “At all costs, we must avoid flame wars, incendiary rhetoric and loose talk.”

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