Today, National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum to all Field offices announcing that she will ask the Board to find mandatory meetings in which employees are forced to listen to employer speech concerning the exercise of their statutory labor rights, including captive audience meetings, a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
General Counsel Abruzzo explains that the Board has long-recognized that the Act protects employees’ right to listen to—or refrain from listening to—employer speech concerning their rights to act collectively to improve their workplace. Forcing employees to attend captive audience meetings under threat of discipline discourages employees from exercising their right to refrain from listening to this speech and is therefore inconsistent with the NLRA.
The memo explains that years ago the Board incorrectly concluded that an employer does not violate the Act by compelling its employees to attend meetings in which it makes speeches urging them to reject union representation. As a result, employers commonly use explicit or implied threats to force employees into meetings about unionization or other statutorily protected activity.
“This license to coerce is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the Act’s protection of employees’ free choice. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights,” said General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. “I believe that the NLRB case precedent, which has tolerated such meetings, is at odds with fundamental labor-law principles, our statutory language, and our Congressional mandate. Because of this, I plan to urge the Board to reconsider such precedent and find mandatory meetings of this sort unlawful.”
The General Counsel states that she will urge the Board to correct that anomaly and propose they adopt sensible assurances that an employer must convey to employees in order to make clear that their attendance at these meetings is truly voluntary. Such an approach will appropriately protect employers’ free-speech rights to express views, arguments, or opinions concerning the employees’ exercise of their protected labor rights without unduly infringing on the rights of employees to refrain, or not, from listening to such expressions.