Labor disputes can certainly get nasty at times, but Porter Airlines out of Canada has filed a $4 million libel lawsuit against some striking fuel workers
based on tweets they sent out, which the airline claims involved "false and misleading information about safety protocols and training practices" by the airline. The strikers, who only just unionized last year, include just 22 workers who handle helping to fuel up the planes. Their twitter account, @PorterStrike
, only had about 200 followers at the time (though it's now up to a whopping 400). The union quickly hit back, saying that the tweets were protected free speech
, and no different than typical striking talk by union members:
“Before Twitter and social media, these things would have been said in a union hall and on a leaflet,” said COPE Ontario legal representative Glenn Wheeler. “The Charter of Rights provides for free expression, freedom of association. So we think we are in our constitutional rights to offer our version of the way we see things. That’s fair comment.”
That's an interesting choice of words, because he doesn't actually say that the statements were true
, which would be the best defense to libel. However, even if the statements were questionable, one has to wonder how much actual "damage" they might do. One would like to expect that statements made by striking workers against their employer would already be viewed through a specific prism, and given how few Twitter followers there were, you'd have to imagine that Porter would have a difficult time showing any actual harm from the tweets in question. Separately, I wonder how much more of a reputational hit the company will take for suing less than two dozen striking workers for $4 million over some tweets...