Photographing Participants At Union Rally Is Unfair Labor Practice

In December 2010, the City of Stamford, Connecticut hired Attorney Christopher Dellaselva to work in its Department of Human Resources. Dellaselva was involved in every aspect of the City’s human resources function, including hiring, testing, and attending collective bargaining negotiation sessions and grievance meetings.

The unions negotiating with the City, including Local 786 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Stamford Police Association, participated in a labor coalition. The Coalition held monthly meetings attended by various union presidents and current labor issues were discussed.

On April 4, 2011, the Coalition conducted a rally in the plaza immediately adjacent to the Stamford Government Center building. Dellaselva was not aware of the rally until he was leaving work for the day and saw the rally in progress upon exiting the first floor elevator into the Government Center lobby. From the lobby Dellaselva took a single photograph of rally participants with his cellular telephone and transmitted the photograph to the HR Director’s cellular telephone. Dellaselva’s stated purpose for taking and transmitting the photograph was to provide the HR Director notice of the rally so that he could access the Government Center building from a different door upon his return.

The Coalition filed an unfair labor practice against the City, contending that photographing employees engaged in the rally interfered with their rights to engage in protected activity. Connecticut’s State Board of Labor Relations agreed with the Coalition.

The City argued that Dellaselva did not intend to surveil the rally when he took the photograph and merely sought to alert the HR Director of the rally. The Board rejected the argument, finding that “the standard for determining whether an employer’s conduct reasonably tends to interfere with the free exercise of protected rights is objective and does not turn on an employer’s motive or whether the coercion actually succeeded or failed. In this instance, an individual designated as the City’s collective bargaining representative photographed an employee rally organized to contest the City’s position on pension benefits for new hires. Dellaselva’s actions were observed by a union president, visible to rally participants, and reported in the local media. We find, on the basis of the record before us, that this would tend to interfere with rights protected under the Act.”

The City also argued that the taking of a single photograph should not serve as the basis for a finding of coercive interference. Once again, the Board disagreed, holding: “Put simply, if photographing employees engaged in protected concerted activities has the tendency to intimidate and implant the fear of future reprisals then this is true whether an employee’s identity is captured in one photograph or in many.”

The Board ordered the City to cease and desist from taking photographs of rally participants.

City of Stamford, Decision No. 4654 (Conn. SBLR 2013).