Captive audience meetings are one of the major tools of corporate union-busting efforts, in which management intimidates workers in person, on the clock, with the knowledge that their responses are being watched. Now, Jennifer Abruzzo, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, is asking the board to classify most captive audience meetings as an unfair labor practice based on coercion in violation of workers’ rights.
“I will urge the Board to correct that anomaly and hold that, in two circumstances, employees will understand their presence and attention to employer speech concerning their exercise of Section 7 rights to be required: when employees are (1) forced to convene on paid time or (2) cornered by management while performing their job duties,” Abruzzo wrote in a memo this week. “In both cases, employees constitute a captive audience deprived of their statutory right to refrain, and instead are compelled to listen by threat of discipline, discharge, or other reprisal—a threat that employees will reasonably perceive even if it is not stated explicitly.”
Workers seeking to unionize are subjected to captive audience meetings in 90% of all organizing drives, according to studies. In recent high-profile cases, that’s included workers at Starbucks and Amazon. And while those union efforts have been successful, it doesn’t mean that the workers don’t feel the effects of the intimidation. Taking away this tool in the union-busting arsenal would be a very big deal.
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“The primary issue for every worker is workplace injuries,” says Ricardo Hidalgo, the Western Region organizing coordinator for the Teamsters, which is behind the union effort at the Santa Rosa facility. According to the Cal/OSHA complaint, Amy’s employs around 2,000 people at its four production facilities, which, according to the company’s 2019 fact sheet, cook up to 1 million meals a day (160,000 hand-rolled burritos among them). The complaint also says around 550 employees work at its Santa Rosa plant — the company’s first, opened in 1987 — though Hidalgo says the number is now around 700, making it the one of the town’s largest and most reliable employers. “I have never, in my career, seen the level of workplace injuries that I’m seeing now,” Hidalgo says.
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