In an April 7, 2022 Memorandum to Regional Directors, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo announced that she will be asking the NLRB to outlaw so-called “captive audience” meetings. Captive audience meetings refer to meetings between employers and employees during an employee’s paid work time where the employee is required to listen to the employer (or its representative) explain the company’s position on unions. Such meetings have long been criticized by labor advocates, and have most recently been condemned as “union busting” tactics by Amazon in its ongoing battle with labor organizations seeking to represent its workers.
While captive audience meetings have been criticized, they have been deemed to be legal for nearly 75 years, 1948, the Board ruled that an employer does not violate the Act by compelling its employees to attend meetings in which it makes speeches urging them to reject union representation. Babcock & Wilcox Co., 77 NLRB 577 (1948). As a result, the practice of requiring employees to attend such meetings has long been a staple of employers’ “union avoidance” campaigns. The rationale behind such meetings is that it provides the company with the opportunity to ensure that employees hear its position on unions before the employee votes in a representation election.
If the General Counsel is successful in her efforts to make captive audience meetings illegal, it will significantly change the balance of power in representation campaigns. While unions will continue to be able to meet with employees outside of work and communicate their message, employers will no longer be able to require employees to hear the company’s responses to the message the union is communicating. In a world where people are increasingly getting their news and other information only from sources that conform to their beliefs, one has to wonder if it is in an employee’s best interest to allow them to opt out of hearing the employer’s message. Ultimately, NLRB elections are conducted by secret ballot, and it seems to me that hearing “both sides of the story” before casting a ballot is the best way to make an informed choice.