Legislation prohibiting bosses from coercing workers to attend or participate in meetings on employers’ views on political or religious matters passed the Senate on Thursday in a bipartisan vote, advancing again in the General Assembly where previous versions have come and gone for over a decade.
The legislation, which passed 23-11, with two Republicans voting with a majority of Democrats, is moving to the House of Representatives. After failing for years, it could win final passage before the legislature adjourns on May 4: House Speaker Matt Ritter told reporters on Thursday that the bill “has received enough good comments” from the majority Democrats and that it will probably be voted on next week.
It is a priority for unions, who accuse employers of undermining organizing campaigns with so-called “captive audience” meetings that cause workers to turn against unions. The companies fiercely oppose the legislation, saying it would limit communications with their employees.
“A captive audience is used quite effectively to thwart, scare and intimidate workers,” said State Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-Hamden, an official with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Republican Leader Kevin Kelley of Stratford said workers in Connecticut are captive to bad state policy embraced by majority Democrats. Connecticut consistently lags other states in job growth. The unemployment rate of 4.6% in March was one percentage point higher than the U.S. rate, and the labor force recovery from the pandemic is weaker than in most other states.
As a result, workers who are unhappy with their employers, whether because of unwanted meetings or other workplace characteristics, are unable to quit and find a better situation, Kelly said.
“If you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re stuck,” he said.
Two members of his caucus, the senses. Tony Hwang of Fairfield and John Kissel of Enfield voted with the Democrats.
“If the company doesn’t do the right thing for its employees, in America they can organize,” Hwang said. “And it’s a right I will fight to the death for.”
However, he criticized Democrats for “tipping the scales in favor of one side against the other.”
Kissel said the legislation was “tightly drawn” and in previous years had “never crossed the finish line”.
“So there must be enough doubt in different corners of the building, whether in this chamber or in the chamber, to know whether this bill is appropriate or not,” he said. “I would like to think that this would be the year that this bill could pass so that we could settle this matter in the State of Connecticut. I think it would be better for everyone involved.
Senate Speaker Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the bill regulates meetings in the workplace and does not affect an “infinite number of communications” such as email, text , voicemail, social media, and traditional US Postal Service usage. .
“We’re actually overwhelmed with communications, so why focus on this one?” He asked.
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The companies say the ban on meetings about “political matters” is too broad. The Connecticut Business & Industry Association testified before the Legislature in March that had the legislation been in effect during the pandemic, it would have restricted employers from disclosing the “wide range of employment-related executive orders, laws, and regulations associated with the government management of the public health crisis”.
The legal issues surrounding employer meetings are contradictory.
The National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel recently said that employers requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings are illegal under federal law, although labor board precedent has allowed the practice.
State Attorney General William Tong said in 2019 that a proposed state law “may be fairly defended as falling outside the scope” of federal law. He took a different approach than his predecessor, then Attorney General George Jepsen, who said in 2018 that federal law prevails over state action.
State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said he disregarded Wong’s or Jepsen’s views.
“My argument here is about what the national labor relations law actually says,” he said.
Stephen Singer can be reached at [email protected]