Can Your Boss Fire You for Your Political Beliefs? Part 3

The saga of the union research assistant, continued.

Chatterbox has acquired more information about, but not much more insight into, l’affaire Keefer. Bryan Keefer is a former research assistant for the Service Employees International Union in Washington. He quit after his boss told him that he couldn’t keep his non-political job if he was going to continue criticizing (on Spinsanity, a Web site he co-founded) the political rhetoric employed by the left. (For more detail on Keefer’s case, see “Can Your Boss Fire You for Your Political Beliefs? Part 2.”) Keefer is a self-described liberal Democrat, but on Spinsanity he takes swipes at self-serving spin from left, right, and center.

The specific bit of leftist rhetoric that Keefer got in trouble for attacking was the phrase “Enron conservatives,” as deployed in a Feb. 4 Nation article by Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. (Chatterbox himself, incidentally, takes exception neither to the phrase “Enron conservatives” nor to Borosage’s article.) After Keefer posted his Borosage critique on Spinsanity and on Salon, his SEIU supervisor told him that he was in violation of the SEIU’s “outside activities” policy and that if he did anything like that again, he’d be fired. Keefer says that SEIU’s director of research, Arne Anderson, told him that his piece had caused “quite a stir upstairs” and that SEIU president Andrew Stern “had to answer for it.” The day after Chatterbox first wrote about Keefer, however, Stern informed Chatterbox that he was not familiar with Keefer’s case at all.

If anyone did demand that Stern, or SEIU, “answer for” Keefer’s Spinsanity piece, the logical suspect would be Borosage. But Borosage, whom Chatterbox caught up with today, says that Keefer’s piece, which he did see when it was published, did not anger him at all. “Yes, I knew about Keefer’s piece,” Borosage wrote in an e-mail.

I was amused by it and happy to have Keefer generating controversy over the term, “Enron conservative.” I thought the article would help spread the term around. I didn’t talk with Stern about it. I did tease SEIU friends, but specifically said that I was thankful for the publicity, not worried about it. I’m startled that he got in trouble over it, which I hadn’t heard until someone sent your piece this morning. 

Chatterbox has no reason to disbelieve Borosage. Still, it’s possible that Borosage’s “teasing” to SEIU friends was misinterpreted as complaint and nervously passed down as such to Anderson (who has declined to discuss this matter). If that’s what happened, then Borosage inadvertently set in motion SEIU’s heavy-handed gag order without wishing for it. This version of events puts SEIU in an even worse light than a scenario in which Borosage barks into the phone, “Get rid of him,” because it suggests that SEIU employees aren’t allowed to criticize leftists even when the leftists themselves don’t especially mind. In truth, though, we don’t know precisely what put SEIU’s knickers in a twist.