With union organizing efforts making headlines at Amazon and Starbucks, a new bill in Connecticut is designed to make it even easier for unions to win organizing votes.
A bill banning so-called “captive audience” meetings won final approval from the Connecticut General Assembly late Friday; it moves to the Governor’s office where his approval seems assured in this election year.
Versions of this bill have been floated for years and prior versions were deemed too legally flawed to proceed.
But still, legislators have moved ahead with this measure passing a bill that will likely be subject to significant legal challenges.
So first the basics. As noted by the Office of Legislative Research:
This bill generally prohibits employers … from disciplining or discharging (i.e., penalizing) an employee or threatening to do so because the employee refused to attend employer-sponsored meetings, listen to speech, or view communications primarily intended to convey the employer’s opinion about religious or political matters (i.e., “captive audience meetings;” …). The prohibition covers meetings with the employer or its agent, representative, or a designee.
There are some notable exceptions. Information that is needed to allow employees to perform their job duties is exempt or as required by law.
But it leaves open questions too:
- When is speech “primarily intended” to convey the employer’s opinion? How is that determined?
- Is the state legislation in conflict with the National Labor Relations Act and does the NLRA preempt this new law?
- Does this law infringe upon the free speech rights of corporations?
It should be noted that beyond the “captive audience” provisions, the bill expands Section 31-51q in ways just beyond this speech too. Previously, it was illegal for an employer to subject an employee to discipline or discharge for their protected speech; now, it will be illegal for an employer to threatened to subject an employee to discharge or discipline — greatly lowering the burden of proof on this element.
If signed by the Governor, the new law would go into effect on July 1, 2022.