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NLRB lawyer wants to ban company’s favorite union busting technique

Amazon workers

Credit: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The National Labor Relations Board’s lead attorney asks the board to ban captive hearing meetings, a practice long used by companies to force employees to listen to union-busting propaganda during work hours or while performing their jobs. duties, a decision by a labor lawyer called “huge” and “directly tied to Amazon.”

“In workplaces across America, employers routinely hold mandatory meetings where employees are forced to listen to the employer’s speech regarding the exercise of their statutory rights at work, especially during recruitment drives,” NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a memo to the board. “These meetings inherently involve an unlawful threat that employees will be disciplined or face other reprisals if they exercise their protected right not to listen to such speech.”

Captive audience meetings have become so common that they are almost standard practice when a company is faced with a labor campaign. Companies that Motherboard said have held meetings with a captive audience in recent years include, but are not limited to: a Google contractor, Starbucks, The New York Times, REI, the animation studio that makes Archer , Kickstarter, and vegan meat company No Evil Foods.

But few companies have used captive audience meeting to the extent that Amazon has, said Amazon Labor Union pro bono attorney Seth Goldstein. ALU has filed five captive audience meeting charges with the NLRB, he told Motherboard. “We said the company was coercive and asked that they ban meetings with a captive audience. Our problem was lying about statutory rights and the threats made there. And it’s ubiquitous. It is a permanent coercive situation. We’ve also had people kicked out of captive audience meetings, told they couldn’t speak. Motherboard got audio leaks from several meetings from Amazon; in one, a union avoidance consultant suggested that unionization could make workers worse off and suggested that their wages could revert to minimum wage.

The Abruzzo memo says the board “wrongly” allowed meetings with a captive audience years ago by concluding that such meetings do not violate national labor relations law. Abruzzo’s interpretation of the law, which includes the right of any employee to “refrain from any or all of these activities”, includes the right not to listen to company talking points regarding unionization, a right that meetings with a captive audience would deny.

“Meetings with a captive audience should be declared illegal,” the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which ran the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, said in a statement. “They are a major weapon that employers use to spread misinformation, intimidate workers and interfere with their choice of whether or not they want union representation.”

Goldstein said the ban, which he expects the council to enact, would be “another historic step” after the ALU’s victory in Staten Island.

“It doesn’t stop [the companies] to express their opinion,” Goldstein said. “What it does is prevent them from coercing employees.”