(May 4) Somebody needs to send administrative law judge Kenneth Chu back to the salt mines.

On April 27, Chu issued one of the silliest rulings imaginable in finding Ben Domenech, publisher of the Federalist online journal, guilty of violating the National Labor Relations Act for a satirical Tweet he posted on June 6, 2019. Responding to news that union employees of the more liberal online publication Vox had conducted a walkout, Domenech tweeted the following:

“FYI @fdrlst first one of you tries to unionize I swear I’ll send you back to the salt mine.”

The Federalist has only six full-time employees. None of them have ever tried to unionize, nor would it make sense for them to do so. As the Federalist is a conservative publication, and conservatives are usually seen as less open to special privileges for unions, it is not likely any of those employees would even desire to unionize.

None of his employees complained. Instead, the complaint was filed by a progressive activist with no prior affiliation or dealings with the Federalist.

Nonetheless, Judge Chu determined that Domenech’s tweet amounted to a threat of retaliation for potential labor organizing, in contradiction of Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA, which makes it unlawful to “restrain, or coerce employees,” with regard to unionizing rights.

Chu’s ruling is nonsense. Even Chu acknowledged that the expression “send you back to the salt mine” is an idiom, a figure of speech, that is “sometimes used in a lighthearted or joking way” to suggest that it’s time to get serious. Anyone who spends even five minutes on Twitter can see that a rather large portion of that forum is taken up with such lighthearted banter, puns, and snark. Domenech’s Twitter feed is no exception.

To suggest that his spur-of-the-moment reaction, a bit of satirical commentary on public policy, open for all the world to see as a reaction to the story about Vox, was an actual threat to his own employees is to abandon all common sense and sense of proportion.

[This judge should be ashamed of his own asininity. To read the rest of the reasons why, please follow this link.]


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