Where do our rights to free speech start and end? Specifically, where does free speech at work start and end? If one particular bill was to become law in Connecticut, the answer to that question would become much more difficult.
There is a bill before the General Assembly that would restrict employers’ speech rights. It also runs afoul of federal labor law.
HB 5473, “An Act Concerning Captive Audience Meetings,” would ban employers from being able to effectively communicate with their employees on “political activity.” Hidden in the definition of “political activity” is discussions about unionization.
This is an end run to squelch employers from educating their employees on what it means to be in a union and how collective bargaining really works. The bill attempts to ensure that the unsuspecting employees only have one side of the story. Keep in mind also that this subject matter area is almost exclusively governed by federal law, not state law.
In fact, according to State Attorney General George Jepsen, the unionization language would likely be preempted by the federal government.
Labor law is obscure, dense, and difficult to navigate, even for the savviest individuals. Because it governs their very existence, unions are experts in labor law. Without allowing employers to share their perspective, the workforce will not have all the information they need to decide whether to unionize. The employees hear campaign promises from the unions, meanwhile the business is unable to provide more context, and instead gets surprised with an election petition.
This is where free speech comes in: after a petition is filed, the NLRB will set an election date. On average, the NLRB elections take place within 24 days from the time the petition was filed. This is presumably when the employer will educate employees of what being in a union will mean for the company and the workforce. Given the complex nature of labor law, the business often must find legal counsel or consultants just to educate everyone involved.
Keep in mind this is not some political rally employees are asked to attend. Unionization is a major decision that would impact core functions of a business — a decision which business leaders are not making. The decision to force a business to bargain with a third party belongs to the employee, done via an NLRB election. Business leaders understand this. However, given the major impact unionization has on the core of a business’ activities, they deserve the right to ensure that employees have the knowledge it takes to cast an informed vote.
The bill is bad policy and quite clearly in conflict with federal labor law. Despite the attempt to use anecdotes and emotion to drive Connecticut’s public policy, the Assembly should know better. We urge the lawmakers to reject this bill and not be fooled by special interest groups to stopping free speech.