- Connecticut is second state to ban ‘captive audience’ conferences
- New lawsuit says injunction violates employer’s right to free speech
- As U.S. labor agency is urged to outlaw meetings
(Reuters) – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, claiming that a Connecticut law barring employers from holding mandatory meetings about unions is unconstitutional and should be repealed.
The groups said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Connecticut that a law passed earlier this year violated companies’ right to free speech by prohibiting them from disseminating truthful information and expressing opinions on important matters.
State law prohibits employers from disciplinary action against workers who refuse to participate in workplace meetings “relating to religious or political matters,” including decisions to join a union.
So-called “captive audience meetings,” in which employers discuss the impact of unions, are routine at union events and legal under the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). But many union and worker advocates say employers use these meetings to discuss the potential downsides of unionizing, giving them an unfair advantage in preventing unions.
Tuesday’s lawsuit alleges that the Connecticut law violated their rights to freedom of speech and assembly under the U.S. Constitution by limiting the ability of employers to provide information about unions. The groups also claim the law has been prioritized by the NLRA.
The Chamber of Commerce is the largest business lobbying group in the United States, joining the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Retail Federation, Allied Builders and Contractors, and several Connecticut-based business groups.
The Connecticut Department of Labor and the Attorney General’s Office, which are listed as defendants, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The only state to ban exclusive audience meetings is Oregon, which did so in 2009. The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the NLRA, challenged the Oregon law in 2020, but a federal judge ruled the agency lacked standing to sue.
In Chamber of Commerce v. Brown in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court said that California law prohibiting employers from using state funds “to assist, promote, or prevent union organization” had been preempted by the NLRA.
Glenn Spencer, the chamber’s senior vice president for employment policy, said in a statement that, like the law in the case, the Connecticut injunction violates longstanding precedent regarding employers’ right to free speech.
“We will continue to defend the right of employers to share their opinions with employees so employees can make informed decisions,” Spencer said.
The lawsuit comes as NLRB’s current general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, is urging the five-member board to overturn an 80-year-old precedent that allowed exclusive audience meetings. Democratic President Joe Biden’s appointee Abruzzo said in an April memo that the meetings discourage employees from exercising their right not to hear anti-union messages.
Abruzzo’s office issued a complaint in May, saying Amazon violated the NLRA by holding a captive audience meeting at a New York City warehouse that later became the company’s first to unionize. Amazon denies wrongdoing.
The case is the United States Chamber of Commerce v. Bartolomeo, U.S. District Court for Connecticut, No. 3:22-cv-01373.
Group: Bryan Killian or Morgan Lewis & Bockius; Maurice Baskin or Little Mendelsohn
For Connecticut: Not available
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