Ban on captive audience meetings advances in Minnesota Legislature

Patrick Kennedy, a licensed social worker, recounted the chilling effect captive audience meetings had on a campaign to organize his workplace two years ago.

After the pandemic hit three years ago, Patrick Kennedy and his co-workers at a local community mental health center became concerned about abrupt and unilateral changes management began making at their workplace.

Talk of forming a union soon turned into a full-fledged organizing campaign with Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 12. Sixteen months later workers were poised to vote in a union election, with public support from nearly 60% of the agency’s 130 workers.

That’s when the “mandatory information sessions” with their bosses began, Kennedy said.

“In one meeting we were told that wage increases were just about to roll out, but could be delayed another year if we were to unionize,” he said. “In another, the CEO assured us that a union would only harm our clients.”

The meetings, according to Kennedy, a licensed social worker, had a “shocking” impact on his co-workers’ organizing drive. By the time workers voted, support for unionizing had dropped to 42%, and the effort failed.

Testifying before a Minnesota House committee earlier this legislative session, Kennedy and other workers urged lawmakers to support legislation that would make it illegal for employers to compel their employees to attend meetings where bosses promote religious or political views, including views on collective bargaining.

“The person who signs your paycheck should not be allowed to force you, under threat of discipline or retaliation, to listen to their opinions about your legally protected right to choose whether to join a union,” Kennedy said.

The proposed legislation has since passed both the House and Senate as part of omnibus labor policy bills. It has been a top priority for unions this legislative session, along with paid family leave, the infrastructure jobs bill, earned sick and safe time and fully funded public services.

Captive audience meetings have come under scrutiny in recent years from policymakers and analysts looking to understand why union membership has remained flat despite polling that shows interest in forming unions at a near-record high.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bernie Burnham (L) testified in support of the captive audience meeting legislation, authored by Rep. Kaela Berg in the House.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bernie Burnham, head of the state’s largest labor federation, said captive audience meetings have become even more common – employers use them in an estimated 90% of union elections, according to one study – during a recent surge in organizing activity both in Minnesota and across the U.S.

“These meetings have nothing to do with the actual jobs that workers do for an employer,” Burnham told legislators. “In fact, many workers describe them as raw intimidation.”

Minnesota lawmakers are not alone in seeking to protect workers’ right to not listen to unwanted political or religious speech. Connecticut passed a ban on captive audience meetings last year, and Oregon has had one on the books for over a decade.

The National Labor Relations Board may soon act, too. A recent memo issued by NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo urged members to reverse the board’s precedent of allowing employers to force their workers to listen to anti-union speech, calling it a “license to coerce” and a “fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights.”

The Minnesota bill’s lead House author, Rep. Kaela Berg (D-Burnsville), said employers would still be allowed to encourage workers to listen to their political or religious views if her bill becomes law. “If the employee wants to have that discussion with the employer, that’s great,” she said. “This just says it cannot be required, and you cannot be punished if you say that’s just not for me.”

That’s a right Kennedy and other workers who have experienced captive audience meetings can only wish they would have had.

Nate Krantz, who went through an organizing drive while working as a certified nursing assistant at a local health care facility, told lawmakers he “noticed that my heart-rate tracker on my Apple watch showed a spike in my heart rate each time I had to sit through one of those meetings.”

Jeff Schreiner, a member of Teamsters Local 120 who helped lead a 10-year organizing drive at Sysco in St. Cloud, said regular captive audience meetings created a “psychologically stressful” work environment, pitted workers against each other and spread misinformation.

“It’s almost like there’s a script that companies follow,” he said after listening to testimony from workers in other industries.

“Employers use mandatory meetings to unfairly influence workers,” Kennedy said. “If the meetings didn’t influence workers, they wouldn’t be happening.”


  1. Paul Goldberg says:

    Back in the ’80s, when IBEW was organizing at the Canterbury racetrack, I ordered an “equal time” policy when it came to mandated meetings regarding the unionization issue while serving as Commissioner of BMS. As I recall, IBEW took advantage of the equal time provision–and went on to win the election.


  1. […] workers in the newly legalized recreational cannabis industry a path to collective bargaining and banning “captive audience meetings,” in which workers are forced to listen to their bosses’ religious, political or anti-union […]

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