Legislation prohibiting Connecticut employers from holding “captive audience” meetings to discourage workers from organizing received final approval in the House late Friday despite Republican arguments it was preempted by federal law.
The bill passed in a 88 to 56 vote, generally along party lines. Eight Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting against it. Rep. Tom Delnicki of South Windsor cast the lone Republican vote in favor.
The policy, long-sought by the state’s labor unions, prevents employers from requiring employees to remain at meetings where they impart political or religious views.
During a floor debate, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, cited the public hearing testimony of Roger Weldon, an employee of Glanbia Nutrionals, who said he was subjected to meetings with “union-busters” prior to a vote to organize.
“There were a number of folks who came forward to tell stories,” Stafstrom said. “There was a constituent of mine, Mr. Weldon who was subjected to certain anti-union meetings at his place of employment. I’ve also heard of instances at a hotel in Stamford and other instances from around our state.”
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association has argued the concept is broad enough to prevent employers from communicating to workers on employment issues impacting their jobs and benefits.
The bill does carve out exemptions allowing employers to communicate information that workers need in order to perform their jobs or is required by law.
However, on Friday, Republicans argued that, even if passed, the law would eventually be scrapped as preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said an opinion by former Attorney General George Jepsen came to the same conclusion about an earlier version of the bill raised during a prior session.
“In the four states that have approved this language, lawsuits have been filed in all four of those states, three of those states the language has been found to be preempted and the fourth awaits a ruling,” Fishbein said.
This year, Attorney General William Tong submitted testimony indicating the bill was materially different from earlier proposals and “beyond the reach of NLRA preemption.”
Rep. Robyn Porter, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the labor committee, said her panel had also heard testimony on captive audience meetings over the years. Porter called the bill a “tool to level the playing field.”
“To eliminate the harassment, the intimidation, the bullying that goes on — and it’s not all employers. We’re not saying everyone is guilty but there are some bad actors out there and this is a way to address that,” Porter said. “No one should have to be subjected to the things that we have heard.”
During the debate, some lawmakers suggested the bill addressed a rare or non-existent problem. Others identified captive audiences perhaps not contemplated by the legislation.
“There are captive audiences we should be dealing with,” Fishbein said. “You know, in some way, shape or form, our children are faced with indoctrination. I’d like to pass a bill that deals with that captive audience.”
“I think all of us in this chamber knows what it feels like to be captive, to maybe endless hours of political speech matters,” Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, said as the House approached its 12th hour in session Friday. “We may know what it feels like to feel trapped, listening to endless speeches on political matters when we just want to do our job and vote.”
The bill now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont for consideration.