CBIA President Chris DiPentima

Connecticut business leaders are leaning on Gov. Ned Lamont to veto a bill that would restrict what employers can say in the workplace. 

The bill, which has been a priority of labor unions for years, is being described by business owners as an unconstitutional attempt to restrict workplace communications and an infringement on employer free speech rights.

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.

CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima noted that almost identical bills attracted written opinions in 2011 and 2018 from then Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen that “a court, if faced with the issue, would likely hold that such a provision is preempted.”

DiPentima also cited a 10-page, May 8, 2002 opinion written by Philip Miscimarra, an Obama administration appointee to the National Labor Relations Board who served from 2013 to 2017—including a period as chair—noting that the bill “is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act.”

“A finding of federal preemption would be warranted because Senate Bill 163 prohibits mandatory employer meetings (involving employer speech, communications, and opinions regarding union issues) that are protected by federal law,” Miscimarra, now a partner with Washington, D.C. law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, wrote. 

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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 the opinion by 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 during the floor debate.

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.”

DiPentima said that “not only is this bill preempted by federal law, it shows a complete lack of focus by policymakers on the key challenges facing the state’s economy and its job creators.”

“This bill does not say Connecticut is open for business,” DiPentima said. “This bill was pushed by groups representing less than 10% of Connecticut’s population and 18% of the workforce.” 

He said the bill would do nothing to decrease the 109,000 job openings in the state. 

Brian Montanari, president and CEO of Glastonbury-based HABCO Industries and Jocelyn Feder, vice president of human resources and talent engagement at AI Engineers in Middletown, said the bill will negatively impact employer-employee communications.

Montanari said he feared the legislation would disrupt his workplace and inhibit the aerospace manufacturer’s growth. 

“The employee/employer relationship is so important,” he said. “If Connecticut becomes a state where employers can’t have open conversations with employees, we no longer attract businesses, talent, or new residents.”

A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont said they are reviewing the legislation.