New York Governor Hochul signed legislation yesterday, banning employers from disciplining workers who do not wish to attend “captive audience” meetings, joining a list of other states that passed laws to place limits on anti-union gatherings in the workplace. When an employer holds a captive audience meeting, workers are required to attend a meeting hosted by the Company and may hear a company’s opinion on unionization, politics or religion. Management often uses such meetings to educate staff and promote an anti-union position. Unions, for these reasons, challenge captive-audience meetings and in the recent years Starbucks and Amazon have been sued at the National Labor Relations Board for allegedly violating the National Labor Relations Act by holding such meetings with staff.
State Senator Jessica Ramos, D-N.Y., who is chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and a sponsor of the law, said in a statement Wednesday that the State is “clearing roadblocks” for organizing efforts through the captive audience meeting law. “You don’t check your first amendment rights and freedom of conscience at the door when you clock in at work,” Ramos said.
Already, however, management advocates and attorneys are pointing out that the State law is pre-empted by a 2008 United States Supreme Court, Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. Brown, in which the high court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act preempted a California law that barred certain employers from using state funds to support or dissuade union organizing. Thus, this newly passed law might not survive scrutiny from the U.S. Supreme Court, should a business group choose to challenge the law.
In the meantime, until the law is subject to reversal, employers are advised to take note of this development and adhere to its requirements.