Labor board chief seeks ban on worktime anti-union meetings

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will seek to have mandatory anti-union meetings during work hours banned.

Jennifer Abruzzo, a President Biden appointee, said in a memo released Thursday that the meetings violate the National Labor Relations Act.

The meetings, a favorite tactic of employers like Amazon, discourage workers from exercising their right not to listen to employer speech about their workplace rights, she argued.

“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,” Abruzzo wrote in the memo. “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.”

The board’s general counsel highlighted two specific cases — when workers are “forced to convene on paid time” or “cornered by management while performing their job duties” — where employers should not be allowed to push anti-union messages.

Abruzzo will now have to find a case challenging such behavior and bring it before the labor board, which currently has a 3-2 Democratic majority.

Unions have been vocal critics of so called “captive audience” meetings, saying it gives employers a platform during elections that labor groups do not have access to.

Groups organizing Amazon facilities in Staten Island, N.Y., and Bessemer, Ala., have filed unfair labor practice complaints challenging the e-commerce giant’s use of the meetings.

Workers at both facilities have told The Hill that Amazon required them to come to meetings with management frequently in the run up to their respective union elections. Workers in Staten Island voted to be represented by the independent Amazon Labor Union while the result in Bessemer is not yet known.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which would represent the Alabama Amazon workers, said in a statement Thursday that the meetings “must be declared illegal.”

“They are the major weapon employers use to spread disinformation, intimidate workers and interfere with their choice as to whether they want union representation,” he said. “The question of whether workers want a union should be the workers’ choice – not the employers’ – free of intimidation and interference. Captive audience meetings make that impossible.”

Author: Chris Mills Rodrigo