NLRB lawyer seeks to throw corporate meetings over unions

The National Labor Relations Board’s lead attorney will ask the board to rule that mandatory meetings held by some companies to persuade their workers to reject unions are a violation of federal labor law.

NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a memo to the agency’s field offices on Thursday that she believed the meetings, sometimes called “captive hearing meetings,” were in violation of state law on professional relationships. She argues that the law allows workers to refrain from listening to the employer’s speech on collective bargaining.

The meetings are regularly organized by companies such as Amazon and Starbucks during labor campaigns.

The Labor Board has allowed companies to hold such meetings in the past, but Abruzzo, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, is seeking to overturn that precedent.

“This authorization to compel is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the law’s protection of employee free choice,” Abruzzo said in the memo. “It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is leading a campaign to organize an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, said in a prepared statement that the mandatory meetings should be outlawed. The union filed a complaint with the labor board in February objecting to Amazon’s use of such meetings. Organizers of the nascent Amazon Labor Union of Staten Island, New York, also voiced similar complaints.

“They are the primary weapon employers use to spread misinformation, intimidate workers and interfere with their choice of whether or not they want union representation,” Appelbaum said. “Whether workers want a union should be the choice of workers – not employers – without intimidation or interference. Meetings with a captive audience make this impossible.

An Amazon spokesperson said the meetings give employees a chance to ask questions and learn what a union “could mean to them and their daily lives at Amazon.”

Early union election results in Alabama show the RWDSU lost 118 votes as the majority of Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer rejected an offer to form a union. The final result is still up in the air with 416 disputed ballots pending in the balance. A hearing to review the ballots is expected to begin in the coming weeks.