This Labor Day I would like to remind you that advocating for workers’ interests is still a work in progress, and apparently can result in a Cease & Desist request with the threat of civil litigation from a state government agency.
As a concerned member of the North Carolina State Health Plan, I joined my fellow public school teachers and state employees in expressing apprehension regarding the future of our health insurance plan, and worried that many health providers would become out-of-network (and therefore much more expensive) on January 1, 2020.
I did not expect that sharing my dissent with State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s method of brinkmanship (using the health care of over 700,000 state employees as a bargaining chip in his pursuit of health care price transparency) would lead to a note from his office threatening legal action.
Amidst the chaos and fear surrounding the Clear Pricing Project, peaking this summer, I shared my concerns about a fact pattern over the last two years of actions taken by leadership of the State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees. Apparently I was not the only one who identified with these concerns as some of my posts were shared widely.
On August 14, 2019 I received an email to my employee email account, and a letter arrived at my home two days later. The letter from State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s Deputy General Counsel is below. To comply with the “cease and desist” request, I have blocked out the logos used by the NC State Health Plan and Treasurer’s Office found in the letterhead.
Since the confusion with and dilution of the trademark and its reflection of the goodwill of the Plan are the sources of their concern, as a “customer” (I prefer member) of the State Health Plan, I would like to offer some examples of how Treasurer Folwell’s actions and statements have confused “customers,” and diluted the integrity of the trademark and goodwill of the program it represents.
It “caus[es] confusion among the Plan’s customers” and “infringe[s] and dilut[es]” the confidence in the trademark and “goodwill of the Plan” when…
- members wondered if they would be able to afford to continue to seek health care from providers who care for them as they manage health concerns including diabetes and cancer treatment, or if expecting mothers would need to change their doctor or hospital mid-pregnancy in order to avoid out-of-pocket expenses for what could become out-of-network providers when they welcome the birth of their child in 2020
- members, their spouses, and dependents wondered if they would need to adjust health care providers, or plans, with only a few months’ notice between the Clear Pricing Project sign on deadline, and the beginning of Open Enrollment
- Treasurer Folwell doubles down on the failing Clear Pricing Project by extending the sign-on deadline and prolonging the confusion
- Treasurer Folwell cryptically replies “Stay tuned” when asked to respond to state employees’ concerns.
Using threats as a tactic to force agreement to your will, whether it’s out-of-network status for health care providers, or possible legal action against a State Health Plan member with sincere concerns about Plan actions taken by the Treasurer’s Office over the last two years – THESE actions “cause confusion” among “consumers” and “dilut[es]” the confidence in the trademark and “goodwill of the Plan”
I was given ten days to respond to the letter. My reply to Treasurer Folwell’s Deputy General Counsel reads as follows:
Dear Mr. Norton:
My use of the logo in the infographic I created (Exhibit A) was not intended in any way to portray my work as representative of official State Health Plan communication. The piece was intended to express concern with actions taken by Plan leadership. As a concerned State Health Plan member, I used the logo as a graphic representation of the source of my concern as a stylistic choice in lieu of additional text. Despite this intent, I have removed the Plan’s trademark from my internet material (Exhibit A) in accordance with your request.
Please reply by email or mail to acknowledge your acceptance of the resolution to the concern of use of the logo in the manner you have requested, as I have removed the logo and will refrain from its use in the future. I will mail a copy of this letter to your office as well. If replying by email, please note that my personal email address is ——–@gmail.com as I do not use my school employee email account – to which the original letter was sent (@–pss.net) – for non-work related matters.
As requested, I “remove[d] the Plan’s trademark from [my] internet materials immediately” and deleted the posts where it was not possible to replace the graphic. The updated graphic replaces the logo with text (boxed in red for your reference). Other posts related to my concerns regarding State Health Plan actions and the Clear Pricing Project can also be found at the end of this piece.
I received a reply from Mr. Norton via email that stated, “Thank you for your attention and prompt compliance with our request. We consider this matter resolved at this time.”
I have since noticed that the State Health Plan logo has been prominent in news coverage related to the Clear Pricing Project. I wonder if WRAL received a “cease and desist” letter as well.
In today’s Raleigh News and Observer, a full-page advertisement appeared from a company who has sent its own “cease and desist” letters to education advocates in North Carolina. Notice the “confusing” trademark of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction that “appears in the top.” To read about the other “cease and desist” letters sent this summer, read Justin Parmenter’s piece here.
As I understand it, the protest materials I created this summer are protected under the First Amendment with freedoms of speech, press, and petition as validated by precedents set by the National Labor Relations Board. Nonetheless I have removed the logo as a courtesy.
By deleting the original post across social media platforms, the record is lost for many of those who shared the information or engaged in digital dialogue expressing their thoughts over the summer. I hope that those who identified with and shared the original posts may take as much interest in sharing the response to my advocacy as well.
As we celebrate Labor Day and its symbolic end of summer, remember why this holiday was actually created. Labor celebrations with parades of union members began in 1882. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 to recognize the contributions of the American worker and the social and economic achievements of labor union advocacy. You can read more here.
Never cease and desist from remembering the roots of Labor Day.