Connecticut state Capitol Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

In a victory for state labor unions, Gov. Ned Lamont ignored a lobbying effort by business organizations and signed a bill Tuesday prohibiting employers from holding “captive audience” meetings to potentially discourage workers from unionizing.

Lamont signed the bill without fanfare Tuesday, making Connecticut only the second state after Oregon with a captive audience law currently on the books. Beginning July 1, the policy will prevent employers from requiring employees to remain at meetings where they impart political or religious views. 

Passage of the bill has long been a priority for Connecticut’s labor unions who say workers attempting to organize often face mandatory meetings in which their employers try to dissuade them from unionizing.

On Wednesday Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne released a statement calling Connecticut a leader in protecting workers’ rights and commending Lamont for signing the law.

“Far too often, when workers attempt to form a union, management forces workers to attend closed-door captive audience meetings where they frequently threaten business closures, wage cuts, layoffs, and more,” Hawthorne said. “In just over six weeks, workers will no longer be forced to attend meetings about their employer’s position on politics, religion, or union organizing.” 

But the bill was marked as both hostile to employers and potentially illegal by the state’s largest business organization, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Following its passage through the legislature last month, CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima wrote to Lamont and encouraged him to veto it. 

On Wednesday, CBIA reacted to Lamont’s signature with a blog post announcing the governor had ignored its input and signed the “employer gag order.”

Although the bill carves out exemptions to ensure employers can communicate information that workers need in order to perform their jobs, DiPentima said the bill could effectively prohibit employers from engaging in necessary workplace matters because it enabled an employee to leave whenever they subjectively felt “political matters” were under discussion.

“For example, employees could refuse to attend workplace meetings because they are offensive to one’s personal political or religious views,” DiPentima wrote in a letter to Lamont. “This could impact discussions and training about diversity, equity and inclusion, LGBTQ issues, vaccination policy, or maintaining workplace safety.”

Opponents expect the law to eventually be struck down as pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act. Former Attorney General George Jepsen came to the same conclusion about an earlier version of the bill raised during a prior session. However, current Attorney General William Tong submitted testimony on this year’s bill in which he concluded lawmakers had changed enough of the language to make the law  “beyond the reach of NLRA preemption.”