April 26, 2018

AG: Federal law prevents state action on 'captive audience' bill

PHOTO | Contributed
PHOTO | Contributed
State Attorney General George Jepsen.

Attorney General George Jepsen on Thursday said a bill passed by two major committees that would ban certain types of employer-employee communications is barred under federal law.

The legislation, known as the "captive audience" bill, would bar employers from requiring workers to attend meetings concerning their views on political or religious matters. The Democratic-led proposal was approved by the labor and judiciary committees.

Labor unions have supported the passage of House Bill 5473, arguing it prevents employers from intimidating their workers, particularly on labor issues. Those sentiments were recently underscored by staff at Foxwoods who said they have endured months of campaigning from Foxwoods' management against their effort to unionize.

Businesses argue employers have the right to communicate with staff. The Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) said the bill defines political matters too broadly, and would prevent discussions on any issues related to community engagement, unionization, wages and benefits, working conditions, and even legislation or regulations that could impact the business.

The attorney general's legal opinion, provided at the request of Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, warned state lawmakers that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prevents state action on the so-called captive audience bill.

Jepsen, a Democrat, joins Republicans and lobbyists who oppose the legislation, which Democrats attempted to pass in 2011.

"It's clear that this bill would limit businesses' free speech protected under federal law," Fasano said. "Government should not interfere with operations of businesses in a way that violates federal protections."

The attorney general's opinion comes weeks before the legislative session ends May 9.

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