In a year of horrors, it’s refreshing to realize that small moments of pleasure are still possible. So I must give thanks today. The National Labor Relations Board has owned Ben Domenech, who runs the Federalist, a far-right online magazine. I am delighted. I may even be thrilled! But I am not surprised. Donald Trump has stacked the NLRB with conservatives, but there are some lines that even a collection of boss-loving free marketeers won’t cross.
Here’s one: You can’t threaten your employees with hard labor for unionizing. You just can’t! Even if you are doing business as Mr. Meghan McCain.
But don’t take it from me. The NLRB has ruled that Domenech violated federal labor law with his Twitter account, a feat he shares with Elon Musk and Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports. By tweeting that he would send anyone who tried to unionize the Federalist “back to the salt mine,” Domenech ran headlong into years of legal precedent. As Bloomberg Law reported on Tuesday, the NLRB concluded that workers would “reasonably view the message as expressing an intent to take swift action against” anyone who organized. “In addition, the reference to sending that employee ‘back to the salt mine’ reasonably implied that the response would be adverse,” the board added.
Domenech must delete his dumb tweet, the board ordered, but he does not seem distressed by this outcome. As of last night, he was still hawking Federalist-brand salt-mine merch on the same Twitter account that got him into trouble:
He also plans to appeal the NLRB’s ruling, his attorney announced in a statement. The NLRB “lacks both common sense and a sense of humor,” complained Aditya Dynar of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, adding that the board “disregarded sworn employee statements saying that they perceived the tweet as just a joke.” But the sworn statements don’t matter, and Dynar should know this. Sure, Domenech does not actually own a salt mine, and could not send anyone to go work in one. But what’s the punch line? That workers who try to unionize will set themselves up for trouble. That’s not a joke; it’s a threat, which is all that matters to the law.
Nothing about this case is all that complicated. As labor attorney Brandon Magner noted, it “never deserved the sort of attention it received.” Domenech could have settled the complaint, if he wanted; Portnoy did, probably without much effort. To Domenech, this might seem like a worthy exercise in owning the libs. To everyone else, he looks like he’s got even less common sense than either Portnoy or Musk, who just named a baby “X Æ A-12.”
So Dynar isn’t doing Domenech any favors. Though I am not an attorney, you don’t have to be one to recognize a stupid idea. The NLRB ruled against him because it had no other choice. In doing so, it upheld a previous ruling from an administrative law judge. The chances that Domenech’s appeal will succeed thus appear to be nil. Further legal action will mostly benefit Dynar and his organization, because they get to consume more of Domenech’s money, and me, because I think this is very funny.
To the salt mines with ye, Ben Domenech! But first, please tell us: Who funds the Federalist?