The Future of NLRB Doctrine on Captive Audience Speeches
26 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2010 Last revised: 13 Nov 2010
Date Written: November 10, 2010
Under the National Labor Relations Act, as interpreted by the courts and the National Labor Relations Board (Board) over the last sixty years, employers have been permitted to give captive audience speeches at work to employees contemplating unionization. Employees must attend such meetings, cannot question the employer representative, and may not have the union come to the workplace to present opposing views. Not surprisingly, these speeches are one of the most effective anti-union weapons that employers currently have in their arsenal. Now that the Board has both a quorum and a sizable Democratic majority, this Essay considers if, and how, the Obama Board might limit the rights of employers to engage in captive audience speeches during union organizational campaigns.
If the issue arises in a representation election case, the Board might expand the Peerless Plywood doctrine to prohibit captive audience speeches for a longer period of time before an election. On the other hand, If a union raises the captive audience speech issue in a case alleging a Section 8(a)(1) unfair labor practice, the Board might reexamine its precedent under Section 8(c) and consider when exactly employer captive audience speech tactics become coercive under Exchange Parts and Gissel. This approach would require a more searching inquiry into the content of the speech. It might also lead the Board to adopt a presumption of employer coercion where employees are unable to leave such a meeting or ask questions of the employer’s speaker. An employer would be able to rebut such a presumption under a modified form of the Struksnes polling standards that would make clear the purpose of such meetings and assure employees against retaliation for not adhering to the employer’s anti-union message.
Keywords: NLRB, Captive Audience Speech, Section 8(c), free speech, union elections, ULP, Peerless Plywood, Gissel, Exchange Parts
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