HARTFORD, Conn.—Connecticut became the second state to ban compulsory “captive-audience meetings” on May 17, when Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill titled “An Act Protecting Employee Freedom of Speech and Conscience.”

The measure will go into effect July 1. It declares that the right to free speech includes “the right not to be required to listen to speech” and enables workers to sue employers if they are fired or disciplined for refusing to attend a meeting, listen to speech, or watch videos whose primary purpose is “to communicate the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters.”

The bill was the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s top legislative priority for 2022. “Yesterday, Gov. Lamont took an important step in protecting working people from employer intimidation and harassment during union organizing campaigns,” state federation President Ed Hawthorne said in a statement May 18. “Starting on July 1, a worker will be able to leave these meetings and return to work without fear of discipline or termination.”

The state Senate passed the bill 23-11 on Apr. 21, largely along party lines, and the House approved it by 88-56 on Apr. 29, with one Republican voting yes and eight Democrats voting no. They rejected amendments that would have restricted the definition of “political matters” to election campaigns and would have barred unions from using “intimidation, coercion, or threatened disciplinary action” to force workers to rally or campaign for a candidate.

Oregon enacted a similar law, the Worker Freedom Act, that went into effect in 2010.

Opponents of the bill argued that it would violate the National Labor Relations Act, which pre-empts state governments from enacting laws that conflict with federal union-election standards. But Connecticut Attorney General William Tong issued an opinion in 2019 that it would be able to withstand legal challenges because it was a “generally applicable” free-speech measure, distinct from one that would specifically forbid meetings “to communicate the employer’s opinion concerning the decision to join or support a labor organization.”

The Trump administration’s National Labor Relations Board tried to get the Oregon law struck down, claiming that it interfered with the NLRB’s jurisdiction. A federal judge tossed that challenge last September, holding that the board could not “demonstrate that any state action caused any alleged injury.”

“Connecticut employers have frequently utilized captive-audience meetings and other hostile tactics when workers have sought to form a union,” state AFL-CIO legislative director Jennifer Berigan said in an email to LaborPress.

Last November, she said, Dollar General hired five $2,700-a-day consultants from the Labor Relations Institute “union avoidance” firm and flew in three out-of-state executives to thwart organizing efforts at a store with six employees in the small town of Barkhamsted. The company held both one-on-one and group captive-audience meetings, fired one union supporter, and threatened to close the store if the workers voted for the union.

In March 2020, bus drivers in the town of Newington voted against union representation after individual captive-audience meetings and the firing of the lead organizer. The same tactics defeated a school bus drivers’ union in Old Saybrook in September 2018.

But in December 2017, housekeeping staff at theSheraton and Hilton hotels in Stamford voted to join UNITE HERE Local 217 despite being forced to attend one-on-one meetings. “They come to harass you while you are doing a room,” Stamford Hilton housekeeper Ines Horjuela, speaking in Spanish, said in a video produced by the AFL-CIO.

Last December, according to the federation,workers at Glanbia Nutritionals, a protein-supplement company with factories in Orange and West Haven, began organizing after management announced it would add a 12.5-hour shift to their workweek without raising their pay. By January, more than 100 of the 154 employees had signed union cards. The Ireland-based company then spent more than $300,000 to hire two consultants from Action Resources to hold mandatory “town hall” meetings where workers were not allowed to ask questions.

In March, workers at the two factories voted 82-23 against being represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371.

“Captive-audience meetings have a very bad way of eroding human dignity and self-respect for some people,” Glanbia production supplies specialist Roger Weldon said in another video, because the half-truths they tell make you “doubt yourself.”


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