Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Facebook: Doomed Rights?

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April 11, 2012 in Labor & Economy

A few weeks back I was quoted in a blog called Down With Tyranny. The article was about the ongoing dispute over employers asking for employee Facebook passwords, as well as the overly broad social media policies of my own employer, the Hyatt Corporation.

After posting this blog to my own Facebook profile, I was a bit stunned by the quick response from an old conservative classmate from high school who didn’t think there was anything wrong with employers asking job applicants to hand over their passwords as a condition of employment.

“If you don’t like it don’t apply to work there. You are asking them for a paycheck, why can’t they ask you for something?”

A few other commenters joined the conversation including my own Canadian wife, who quickly jumped to my defense — which made me proud and embarrassed, all at once. I felt the need to hold her back from the computer. She was spoiling for a fight, as if the dear maple leaf itself had been attacked.

What is really odd is that I don’t consider this a partisan issue at all, but an attack on the Constitution by the Corporate States of America. Imagine for a moment that your employer asks you to renounce all guns and to sell them before they agree to hire you. Imagine that an employer asks you to willingly suspend your Second Amendment rights just so that you can have a job. Do you walk away or do you give up your guns? Who’s pissed off now?

Hyatt’s social media policy has a phrase in it that should scare every employee who works for the company:

Avoid commenting on Hyatt or any Hyatt location . . . Hyatt may request that you temporarily confine your use of social media to matters unrelated to Hyatt if it determines this is necessary or advisable to ensure compliance with applicable laws or Hyatt policies.

Hyatt pretty much controls my speech while I’m at work. Why should it have power over me when I’m in the comfort of my own home? Isn’t that my time? Or shall I clock in once I get home too? Perhaps I’ll send them a bill and see what happens.

What worries me is this new employer/employee “agreement” to barter our First Amendment rights simply for a job. The Founding Fathers didn’t anticipate that citizens would have to barter away their  right to free speech, which is an individual freedom not owned by the state or the federal government. We don’t allow federal or state governments to barter with us for this freedom and we certainly should not allow corporations to do this. George Washington didn’t anticipate Facebook, but he certainly understood the privacy of one’s own home.

Why am I making such a stink about this? Because I believe that this is a direct tactic of corporations like Hyatt to stop whistleblowers. I’ve written extensively in the past year about what I consider to be Hyatt’s inhospitable work conditions — which is ironic, considering I work in the hospitality industry. I’ve written about the plight of the housekeepers in my hotel and how Hyatt is one of the worst offenders when it comes to its injury rates as compared to other hotels.

I’m sick and tired of hearing about China’s working conditions when right under my own nose I see maimed and crippled housekeepers cleaning more rooms than they should. No words can describe what I feel for these women.

What is it about us, as Americans, that makes us love to examine other countries’ abuses instead of our own? That we feel empathy for people in far away lands even when our own suffer right in front of us. Of course Hyatt doesn’t want me to talk about our housekeepers. The truth is Hyatt has a lot of dirty laundry and I don’t think all the housekeepers in the country could clean it.

As I stated in my last Frying Pan post, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel has decided to challenge Hyatt on its broad social media policy and I’m extremely grateful for it. Yet it might be nice to be protected by the First Amendment as it was designed, rather than simply by a good union attorney. I would certainly feel safer when discussing the plight of our housekeepers.

My conservative classmate later stated in our ongoing Facebook discussion:

“My country has given me the right to walk away and say no thanks, no job is worth giving up your right of privacy.”

That’s true, but it’s also where I draw the line. Our civil liberties are in jeopardy precisely because people have decided to walk away. Our liberties are only as strong as we are, and we as individuals must take some responsibility for the erosion of these freedoms. If the audacity of Corporate America has been its vast overreach into our lives, then we too must be audacious and fight back. The Constitution is only as strong as we want it to be.

It is truly amazing to me that half the country has been on guard for socialism while fascism has crept right through the back door for the rest of us. I’m not okay with that and none of us should be.

As my wife said to me later in the eve.

“Companies should hire employees based on their skills, not which freedoms they’re willing to give up.”

Ditto.

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Jim Lair Beard
Jim Lair Beard is a writer who worked as a server at the Hyatt Andaz for two years.
Read more articles by Jim Lair Beard

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