On Thursday, the top lawyer at the agency in charge of enforcing labor laws in the United States announced that she will ask the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to prohibit employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings, effectively eliminating a major tool used by employers to counter union campaigns.
Captive audience meetings, according to Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, discourage employees from exercising their right to refuse to listen to anti-union messaging, making them illegal under federal labor law.
“This authority to coerce is an aberration in labor law, incompatible with the (law’s) protection of employees’ freedom of choice,” concluded Abruzzo, a Biden appointee.
In a future case, Abruzzo plans to petition the five-member NLRB to reject its own rule from the 1940s, which says captive audience meetings are allowed. As a prosecutor, the general counsel files complaints against firms, which are then heard by the board.
In previous cases, the NLRB has ruled that the meetings are a lawful exercise of employers’ free-speech rights, but Abruzzo claims that those rulings failed to balance those rights with workers’ freedom to choose whether or not to join unions.
The message comes amid a flurry of high-profile labor campaigns involving corporations like Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O), both of which are said to have hosted captive audience meetings.
According to certain research, more than 90% of employers that face union elections organize required anti-union meetings.
Requests for comment from Amazon and Starbucks were not immediately returned.
Employers utilize captive audience meetings to promote misinformation and harass workers, according to Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, in a statement released on Thursday.
“The choice of whether or not workers want a union should be made by the workers, not the employers,” he added, adding that it should be free of intimidation and meddling.