A construction contractor fired five employees after several of them appeared in a YouTube video complaining of hazardous working conditions. Following an investigation, the NLRB regional office issued complaint. As a hearing opened, the case settled, with the workers receiving full backpay and declining reinstatement.
The employees, all immigrants from El Salvador, learned they were building concrete foundations at a former Superfund site and worried that the soil they were handling was contaminated with arsenic and other toxins. They also said they were required to wear badges indicating they’d been trained to handle hazardous materials, when in fact, the badges belonged to other workers and they had never been trained.
Three of the employees took their concerns public in a YouTube video posted on July 21, 2008. Speaking in Spanish, they hid their faces in shadow in an attempt to avoid retaliation. However, within 10 days, the three who appeared in the video and two others who were close to them had all lost their jobs with Rain City Contractors. Through the ensuing months, according to charges filed with the agency’s Seattle office, the employer continued to threaten and interrogate other employees, warning them not to talk about working conditions with outsiders.
Following an investigation of the charges, the NLRB Regional Director determined that the YouTube video was protected because the employees voiced concerns about safety in the workplace, and the public airing of their complaints did not lose the Act's protection because they accurately described their concerns about working conditions. On behalf of the NLRB General Counsel, the director issued a complaint calling for a hearing before an administrative law judge.
As the hearing began in June of 2009, NLRB attorneys were prepared to play the video, and to present evidence that the employer had been fined for numerous violations of state law regarding the same concerns as those raised by the workers. However, on the second morning of testimony, Rain City Contractors agreed to settle the case by giving all five workers full backpay for the period from their discharges to the settlement date. The workers declined reinstatement.