New Orleans Welcome to one of the first organizing committee meetings of the Jennifer Abruzzo Fan Club! Just the other day, I was touting the fact that there was a new sheriff in town; the town being Washington, DC; and, the wild west frontier being the usually staggering, drunken ol’ cowpoke with a rusty tin badge called the National Labor Relations Board or NLRB. Here I am again, because the new sheriff is packing heat and firing away.
She circulated a memo indicating that the board is going to be looking for cases to cite so-called “captive audience meetings” as unfair labor practices prohibited under section 8 a 1 of the Act. She was clear that once they settled on a lead case that it would be determinative on all outstanding cases, which is a clear and powerful message as well, but first, what are we talking about and what might all of this mean?
Captive audience meetings are one of the most powerful weapons used by employers to combat union organizing campaigns by their workers. These meetings are on work time. The union is not allowed to be present because they are also on company premises ordinarily. They offer the employer, his legal team, and management a clear shot at the entire workforce to say very nearly anything they want about the union, other than that they will fire everyone or close the plant. Oh, and the meetings are almost invariably mandatory, and that’s where Abruzzo has hit the bullseye.
The fact that the meetings are mandatory makes them coercive, not the fact that they are one-sided in favor of the company. The weird facts of life in union organizing is that the boss can call the union anything other than a child of God, lie like a dog, and accuse the union of innumerous mischief and crimes, except in the “critical period” 24 hours before an election, because supposedly before that time the union has the opportunity to tell workers the truth and change their minds. The legal equivalent for normal citizens would be something along the lines of it being a fair deal if a mugger takes your purse or wallet, as long as you are still able to run after the miscreant after he lifted your property. In short, it’s not a fair fight, and decades of lawyers and various NLRB appointees have diluted the protections of the law to this degree.
In my view, she’s got a winner, but by publicizing her memo now and indicating that she would “bind” everything to the determination in the lead case, she is sending a message to management side attorneys and the employers that hire them right now. The message is straightforward. If they continue to employ mandatory captive audience meetings to block unionizations, they are almost guaranteed that the elections may be overturned by the NLRB. Any anti-union consultant worth the thousands of dollars a day and expenses that they are being paid by Starbucks, Amazon, and the Joe Blow from Kokomo employer will have to advise his client that they would be crazy to use mandatory captive audience meetings until the dust clears.
Contact me at the usual address for membership applications to Jennifer Abruzzo’s Fan Club.