Despite significant legal concerns, Connecticut lawmakers are again considering legislation that drastically limits what employers can discuss in the workplace.
The legislature's Judiciary Committee held a public hearing March 14 on HB 5473, which prevents employers from speaking about anything defined as a "political matter"—including legislation or regulations that impact their businesses.
The so-called "captive audience" measure even restricts employers from discussing their support for various civic, community, or fraternal organizations.
The proposal is nearly identical to one the state House narrowly passed in 2011 after an 11-hour debate.
A few days after that debate, state Attorney General George Jepsen sent a letter to the Labor and Public Employees Committee, noting that federal labor law appeared to preempt the measure.
Attorney General's Advice Killed 2011 Bill
Prior to Jepsen's 2011 letter, Charles Cohen, a Clinton appointee to the National Labor Relations Board who served from 1994 to 1996, said the bill "ignores decades of federal law on employer free speech rights."
"This legislation runs afoul of federal labor law and is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act," Cohen wrote in a four-page legal opinion.
Jepsen's letter and Cohen's opinion confirmed the business community's position—that the NLRA has exclusive authority over law governing relations between unions and private sector employers.
The bill ignores decades of federal law on employer free speech rights.
Federal law aside, the bill is, perhaps, an unfortunate sign of politically polarized times.
It raises the question: Has our state become so divided that advocates don't want employees to hear views that may be contrary to their own—even if the employees are getting paid to listen?
The captive audience measure will not pass legal muster in Connecticut.
It makes more sense for lawmakers to address the state's economic problems rather than support legally questionable attempts to silence perceived criticism.