Unions call on Pritzker to sign Worker Freedom of Speech Act

Bans “captive audience” meetings

Illinois Correspondent

TEAMSTERS JOINT COUNCIL 25 President Thomas W. Stiede.

Union leaders are calling on the Illinois governor to sign the Worker Freedom of Speech Act, which bans “captive audience” meetings while some Republican leaders call it unconstitutional.

Both houses of the Illinois state legislature have approved the bill, which bans mandatory attendance to employer-sponsored presentations focused on political, religious or anti-union propaganda.

“Captive audience meetings infringe on workers’ rights by compelling them to choose between their job security or having to endure offensive propaganda,” said Thomas W. Stiede, Teamsters Joint Council 25 president. “Employers routinely use corporate indoctrination to foster an environment conducive to coercion whenever they find out about a union organizing drive. The Worker Freedom of Speech Act safeguards workers’ rights to opt out of these meetings without fear of repercussions.”

The bill is set to be sent to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk. Teamsters issued their call May 30 for the governor to sign it. Those calls have been echoed by Illinois AFL-CIO, Chicago Federation of Labor, Equality Illinois, Citizen Action, Women Employed, Shriver Center on Poverty Law and several local Labor councils on the Illinois side of the river.

The measure is similar to other bills pending in other state legislatures, and at least five other states have already adopted legislation banning them. Political organizations and specified not-for-profits are exempted, as their mission is to engage in advocacy.

But state Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville) called the measure unworkable and unconstitutional, according to Advantage News.

“Let’s work on good public policy that will grow this state, grow our economy and help our employees,” Plummer said. “Let’s not play politics with unconstitutional legislation that’s going to get thrown out in the court of law.”

Minnesota passed a ban last year, and a lawsuit has been filed by the Minnesota Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, the National Federation of Independent Business and Laketown Electric corporation. They argue the law violates constitutional protections of free speech. Laketown Electric stated in the suit that they are frequently “targeted by union organizing efforts, creating the need to communicate lawfully with its employees on this important topic,” according to the Minnesota Reformer.

Captive meetings were initially banned under the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, according to the Reformer. But the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 reversed that part of NLRA, allowing employers to require employees to listen to political and religious presentations that have nothing to do with their actual work.

For example, ConocoPhillips called 200 construction workers into “safety” meeting to discuss its opposition to ballot measures on tax cuts for oil companies.

An Ohio coal mine actually shut down to force workers to attend a rally for then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney without pay.

In Oregon, a Native American worker was fired for refusing to attend weekly hour-long Bible studies.

And in Wisconsin, Starbucks workers were required to attend meetings where they were told they would lose women’s reproductive health benefits if they voted to unionize.

Some of those corporations have also claimed the law is unconstitutional, including Amazon, SpaceX, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s, according to the Reformer.

President Biden’s general counsel for the NLRB, Jennifer Abruzzo, has asked the board to reverse Taft-Hartley and reinstate a nationwide ban on these meetings as “a license to coerce.” In the meantime, it’s a state-by-state regulation.

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