Monday, March 11, 2013

Roundhouse Roundup: Would You Want to Work For These Guys?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
March. 10, 2013

There are many legislators on both sides of the aisle of whom I’m personally fond. Many who I sincerely respect. In fact, I have to admit that there are surprisingly few outright jerks in the House or Senate. Most are pretty decent folks.

But based on a couple of recent votes at the Roundhouse, there are some lawmakers who, even though I like them, I wouldn’t want to be my boss.

Listening to the debates on the bills in question, it almost seemed like some of these guys think that employers should be able to demand just about anything they want from their employees.

First there was Sen. Jacob Candelaria’s Senate Bill 371, which would prohibit prospective employers from asking job applicants for passwords to their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social-media sites.

The bill was introduced in response to a bunch of national news stories last year about employers demanding passwords to Facebook and other sites from prospective employees at job interviews.

The bill did not restrict potential employers from checking out an applicant’s Web presence. Nothing prevented any boss from not hiring some stupid job seeker who has naked pictures of himself smoking dope plastered all over his Facebook page. All the bill would do would be to make it illegal to demand passwords. I can only see two reasons why an employer would want to use your Facebook password:

1) To look at posts you have made “private” — available to only friends or family.

2) To look at your private messages.

Both reasons strike me as downright creepy.

To be fair, opponents said they worry the proposal could inhibit law-enforcement agencies and the military from performing background checks on potential recruits. But, as Candelaria pointed out, nobody in the state Public Safety Department who analyzed the bill expressed concern about that.

The measure passed the Senate by a healthy, bipartisan 28-9 margin. Still, there were nine senators, all Republicans, who are OK with employers asking prospective employees for their Facebook passwords.

And, after a House floor vote on Thursday, I’m betting there will be even more votes from people who believe bosses have a right to snoop through your private stuff.

I’m talking about House Bill 277, sponsored by Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque. This bill, which was voted down, would have prohibited employers from requiring their workers to attend meetings that have the main purpose of touting the employer’s opinions on religion or politics.

Under Trujillo’s bill, it would have been against the law to threaten or penalize employees for not attending such meetings or for not participating in communications regarding political or religious matters. (Political and religious organizations would have been exempted from this bill.)

Stories of bosses forcing their politics on their workers were seen widely last year. There were reports from Ohio of coal companies making their workers go to Romney rallies. Then there was another story last year about a state agency in Illinois whose workers were forced to go to a rally involving U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Should your boss be allowed to punish you if you’d rather just do your job than listen to a bunch of political jabber or religious proselytizing?

Apparently 36 members of the House think so. That includes all Republicans and four Democrats, including two from the Santa Fe area — Reps. Jim Trujillo and Carl Trujillo.

Some opponents of the bill said it would infringe on the free speech rights of the bosses.

I wonder whether they will be as concerned about free speech — the right to write Facebook messages to your friends without your prospective boss reading them — when they consider Candelaria’s social media bill.

(After this column was written, the House Labor Committee voted unanimously for a do-pass recommendation for Canderlaria's SB 371.)

UPDATE: 7:27 pm 3-12-13 I just got an email from Rep. Jim Trujillo who sent a section of the fiscal impact report  on the billas an explanation why he voted against HB 277.

From that report: "HB 277, if enacted, could face First Amendment challenges from employers asserting violations of free speech rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision."