Business groups sue over Conn. law banning mandatory anti-union meetings

  • Connecticut is a second state to ban “captive audience” meetings
  • New lawsuit says ban violates employers’ free speech rights
  • Comes as US labor agency being urged to outlaw the meetings

(Reuters) – The US Chamber of Commerce and other business groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday claiming a Connecticut law barring employers from holding mandatory meetings about unionizing is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The groups in a complaint filed in Connecticut federal court said the law adopted earlier this year violates businesses’ free speech rights by barring them from disseminating truthful information and expressing opinions about important matters.

The state law bars employers from disciplining workers who refuse to attend workplace meetings “concerning religious or political matters,” including the decision to join a union.

So-called “captive audience meetings,” in which employers discuss the effects of unionizing, are routine in union campaigns and are legal under the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). But many unions and worker advocates say employers use the meetings to discuss the potential negative impacts of joining a union, giving them an unfair advantage in discouraging unionizing.

Tuesday’s lawsuit claims that by curbing employers’ ability to provide information about unionizing, Connecticut’s law violates their rights to freedom of speech and assembly under the US Constitution. The groups also claim the law is preempted by the NLRA.

The Chamber, the largest US business lobby, was joined by the National Federation of Independent Business, National Retail Federation, Associated Builders and Contractors and several Connecticut-based business groups.

The Connecticut Department of Labor and Attorney General’s Office, which are named as defendants, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The only other state to ban captive audience meetings is Oregon, which did so in 2009. The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the NLRA, challenged Oregon’s law in 2020 but a federal judge ruled that the agency lacked standing to sue.

In the 2008 case Chamber of Commerce v. Brown, the US Supreme Court said a California law barring employers from using state funding “to assist, promote, or determine union organizing” was preempted by the NLRA.

Glenn Spencer, the Chamber’s senior vice president for employment policy, said in a statement that like the law at issue in that case, Connecticut’s ban violates longstanding precedent regarding employers’ free speech rights.

“We’ll continue to defend an employer’s right to share opinions with employees so that employees can make informed decisions,” Spencer said.

The lawsuit comes as the current general counsel of the NLRB, Jennifer Abruzzo, is urging the five-member board to overturn 80-year-old precedent allowing captive audience meetings. Abruzzo, an appointee of Democratic President Joe Biden, said in an April memo that the meetings discouraged employees from exercising their right to refrain from listening to anti-union messages.

Abruzzo’s office in May issued a complaint claiming Amazon.com Inc violated the NLRA by holding captive audience meetings at a New York City warehouse that later became the company’s first to unionize. Amazon has denied wrongdoing.

The case is Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Bartolomeo, US District Court for the District of Connecticut, No. 3:22-cv-01373.

For the groups: Bryan Killian of Morgan Lewis & Bockius; Maurice Baskin of Littler Mendelson

For Connecticut: Not available

Readmore:

Why the labor board wants to free ‘captive’ workers from bosses’ messaging

NLRB takes second shot at overturning Oregon’s ‘captive audience’ meeting law

Amazon’s captive staff meetings on illegal unions, labor board official finds

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

daniel wiessner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at [email protected]

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