A Time to Change: Unconscionable Contracts and Workers’ Rights to Use Social Media As Concerted Activity

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Since I believe in open and honest communication and people are curious as to what transpired between Change.org and me, here is a fleshed-out version. It is not meant to ruffle any feathers but just a statement of facts that transpired over the course of the last few days.

I was told early Friday morning — before my last law school final and arguably what was supposed to be the best day of my life this year — that all blogging contracts were being terminated. Shocked and upset, I rushed off an email to the “Immigrant Rights” team, asking them to clarify what was going on and whether there was something else in the works.

I received a clarification: they would love to keep me on at 1/3 pay and did not discuss a new contract with me because I was doing my exams. I still don’t understand why it is acceptable to send me a notice of contract termination during my exams but not two sentences about a new contract. It is incompetent communication.

I was noticeably livid and posted on Facebook and Twitter about my disappointment over losing my job. Then I went to take my final exams. That evening, instead of celebrating with my law school classmates, I stayed in and received a copy of my NTA from DHS with charges that made no sense. I was in removal proceedings facing provably false charges and just lost my job, which would have been a tremendous help during proceedings. It was an extremely tense and stressful situation for me and my entire family.

I checked my email later, which had apologies from practically everyone from the owner of the site down to the Editor of “Immigrant Rights.” On Saturday, I was on the phone with the “Director of Immigrant Rights,” who tried to apologize once again and work through a new contract. On Sunday, I was given a new offer with an apology. I accepted the apologies, agreed with the offer and asked for a formal contract to be drawn up.

I don’t need to get into how I virtually built that site and lent credibility to several causes over the last two years. I wasn’t just a blogger — I went above and beyond the call of duty to teach people how to write, organize and even recruit new members for the team. I was a constant model for how to organize using social media. And that is an understatement. But I digress.

Late on Monday night, I was told that the company had issues with my use of social media. They felt disparaged and pointed to a contract provision that stated that I could never speak ill of an employee or the company under the old contract and going forward in the future. I was told an exception would be made for my past use but not going forward.

In typical law student fashion, I pointed out that the contractual provision from the old contract and the new one on the table was
1) unconscionable (standard boilerplate contract)
2) a violation of public policy (per NLRB v. American Medical Response of Connecticut, prohibiting a worker’s concerted use of social media is illegal)

The next thing I hear, there is no contract for me: clearly, a violation  of an agreement-to-agree in good faith.

Openly complaining about my treatment as an employee on social media — a legally-protected “concerted activity” — was couched as not being professional enough. I am sure this post is considered “unprofessional” — a euphemism for complaining about your treatment and rights as a worker.

I tried to make them see reason (and the law) but then belatedly realized, I don’t want to work for a company like this anyway, regardless of my financial situation. My family assured me that things will work out for the best. 

Now, there is a difference between concerted activity and remarks that are provably false. None of the remarks I have made about the company are provably false and all of them concerned my job and treatment as a worker. Here’s a thought: If a company is concerned about how its workers use social media, it should begin by trying to keep their workers happy instead of threatening them into silence with unconscionable boilerplate contracts that violate First Amendment rights.

Interestingly, I am the second “Immigrant Rights” blogger to be fired after asking for fair labor standards. In a complete irony, the “Immigrant Rights” section has a petition protesting Chipotle worker firings while also treating their workers in similar fashion: no collective bargaining rights in addition to violating agreements to agree in good faith.

Limiting a worker’s right to freedom of speech and association is certainly not the hallmark of a progressive company. But therein lies our biggest mistake: Change.org is not a progressive company and not even a non-profit. According to several current and past employees who have asked not to be named due to fear of retaliation, Change.org makes money from selling names and email addresses, often to questionably right-wing organizations. It is a business corporation.

This is certainly a blessing in disguise and probably a great time to put my side-career in social media to rest in order to concentrate on law school. Not having a monthly income in the meantime puts a little dent to how we are planning to fight my removal case. But I’m sure I will get a much better full-time gig when I am ready to get one.

A paid summer fellowship — more than 6 times the last job offer — awaits me in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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