The Captive Audience is No Longer Captive

            The Connecticut General Assembly wrapped up its annual business last week. There were a few noteworthy new laws passed by the legislative branch that have been of interest to employers and employees in the state.

            The big one that seems to have touched a nerve with employers and anti-union activists is the so-called “captive audience” bill, which will ban employers from requiring employees to attend certain meetings held by the employer regarding political or religious topics.

            The new law prohibits employers from disciplining or discharging any employee who refuses to attend “an employer-sponsored meeting with the employer or its agent, . . . to communicate the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters, or . . . listen to speech or view communications” about the same. An employer who violates the law is subject to damages including lost wages and attorney’s fees and costs.

            These “captive audience” meetings have routinely been used by employers for one purpose and one purpose only: to scare or intimidate employees out of joining unions. When a union drive is started at an employer’s business, employers will sometimes bring in attorneys and agents to speak to employees for hours at a time over multiple days to dissuade employees from voting in favor of a union.

            The law still allows employers to hold the meetings, so employers have not lost their right to engage in speech on their premises. They can have as much speech as they want on political and religious subjects. They can post signs and send emails. They can even host meetings. They just cannot require employees to sit there and listen at a meeting.

            That sounds fair to me. Last week I turned on Tucker Carlson for the first time in my life. I wanted to hear what he had to say. I agreed with some things and disagreed with others. I have watched him occasionally since then, but I can only take so much. Same is true for Connecticut’s own Morning Joe. I’ll give him and Mika a listen for about fifteen minutes most most mornings, but then I’ve had enough and I’ll move on. Whether I listen or not, I am never infringing on Tucker’s or Joe and Mika’s rights to say what they want.

            Same is true of the “captive audience” law. It is not a “gag order” as some would have you believe.

            I’m guessing most employers are not in favor of unions.  

            If employees know going in that a meeting is intended to dissuade them from joining a union and that the employer really would rather not have them join the union, there really is no need to sit through a three-hour meeting. The message has been sent. And received.

            Now I suppose the “sky-is-falling” crowd will claim that businesses are going to leave Connecticut en masse because of this law. I doubt it. They might leave because it is expensive to live here, or there is not enough high-end talent, or the roads and traffic are awful if you are traveling anywhere between the New York border and New Haven or Hartford.

            But unions? Last I checked, employees who were fairly compensated – with a degree of job security and stability regarding schedules – tended to stay with their employers and be productive. That sounds like a good way to be profitable to me.

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