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NLRB Top Attorney Takes Aim at Company Anti-Union Meetings (1)

April 7, 2022, 3:02 PMUpdated: April 7, 2022, 4:44 PM

National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said she would seek to ban mandatory anti-union meetings in the workplace, declaring war on employers’ principal tool to thwart unions.

Abruzzo said in a memo to regional directors Thursday that anti-union meetings “inherently involve an unlawful threat that employees will be disciplined or suffer other reprisals if they exercise their protected right not to listen to such speech.”

“I believe that the NLRB case precedent, which has tolerated such meetings, is at odds with fundamental labor-law principles, our statutory language, and our congressional mandate,” Abruzzo wrote. “Based thereon, I plan to urge the Board to reconsider such precedent and find mandatory meetings of this sort unlawful.”

Abruzzo’s proposal goes further than any of her modern predecessors. Such meetings have been considered legal under board precedent since the 1940s, and have since become a common employer tool to dissuade workers from joining a union. A 2009 study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that 89% of businesses required employees to attend anti-union meetings during work hours.

Anti-union meetings were a point of contention in the recent organizing drives at Amazon.com Inc. warehouses in New York and Alabama. Unions have long argued that the mandatory gatherings, derided as “captive audience” meetings, give management an unfair advantage and subject workers to intimidation.

The announcement was met with praise from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which headed the recent union campaign at Amazon in Bessemer, Ala. The outcome of that election will be decided by about 400 challenged ballots. RWDSU and Amazon Labor Union, the group that prevailed in an election on Staten Island, N.Y., last week, each filed charges with the NLRB, alleging Amazon violated federal labor law in connection with anti-union meetings.

“They are the major weapon employers use to spread disinformation, intimidate workers and interfere with their choice as to whether they want union representation,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement. “The question of whether workers want a union should be the workers’ choice—not the employers’—free of intimidation and interference.”

Abruzzo’s memo comes a day after President Joe Biden endorsed the union efforts at Amazon for the first time.

“Amazon, here we come,” the president said in a speech to North America’s Building Trades Unions.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian Kullgren in Washington at ikullgren@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com, Melissa B. Robinson at mrobinson@bloomberglaw.com