Legislature Passes Unconstitutional Employer Gag Order

05.01.2022
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Issues & Policies
The Connecticut state House approved controversial legislation late on April 29 that drastically restricts employer-employee workplace communications. SB 163, which the state Senate passed 23-11 April 21, now heads to Gov. Ned Lamont, who has the option to veto a measure widely regarded as unconstitutional.
The state House approved SB 163 shortly before midnight April 29 on an 88-56 vote.
The House approved the bill on an 88-56 vote, with eight Democrats—Jill Barry (D-Glastonbury), Jaime Foster (D-Ellington), Daniel Fox (D-Stamford), Christine Goupil (D-Clinton), John Hampton (D-Simsbury), Stephen Meskers (D-Greenwich), Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), and Kerry Wood (D-Rocky Hill) voting against it. Rep. Tom Delnicki (R-South Windsor) was the sole Republican to vote for the bill. Seven representatives were absent.

‘Lack of Focus’

CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said “not only is this bill preempted by federal law, it shows a complete lack of focus by policymakers on the key challenges facing the state’s economy and its job creators.” “I’m embarrassed for Connecticut, our amazing residents, and businesses that the legislature approved this anti-employer and unconstitutional bill, as twice confirmed by our former Attorney General and in three separate court decisions,” he said. “Not only is this bill preempted by federal law, it shows a complete lack of focus by policymakers on the key challenges facing the state’s economy and its job creators.”
Not only is this bill preempted by federal law, it shows a complete lack of focus by policymakers on the key challenges facing the state’s economy. CBIA’s Chris DiPentima
SB 163 restricts an employer’s ability to discuss “political matters” or “religious matters” in the workplace, allowing employees to leave any meeting they feel is “political” or religious.” The bill’s broad definitions of those terms would cover discussions not just of labor organizing efforts, but also elections or candidates, any pending legislation or regulation, or an employer’s involvement in civic or community events. Workers could also justify their refusal to participate in any meeting or training session—such as a session covering diversity, equity, and inclusion for instance—because it violated their political or religious beliefs.

Adversarial

Backed by labor unions, state lawmakers have pushed these so-called captive audience bills—which essentially amount to a gag order on employers—for more than a decade. All have foundered, often gaining support in certain committees before failing to gain traction on either the House or Senate floor—primarily based on concerns that the bills cannot withstand legal challenges. DiPentima noted that only does SB 163 dictate how employers interact with employees, “it reflects an adversarial attitude toward Connecticut businesses.” “This bill was pushed by groups representing less than 10% of Connecticut’s population and 18% of the workforce,” DiPentima said.
“At a time when struggling small businesses desperately need support, lawmakers made it even more difficult to do business in Connecticut.” DiPentima
“It does nothing to address the state’s 109,000 job openings, the declining labor force—our pandemic losses represent a stunning 41% of the U.S. decline—soaring inflation, or supply chain bottlenecks. “At a time when struggling small businesses desperately need support, the General Assembly decided to make it even more difficult to do business in Connecticut and continues to weaken the employer-employee relationship. “That relationship is critical for driving innovation and makes Connecticut businesses some of the safest and most productive in the world.”

Economic Recovery

Numerous employer groups, including CBIA, vigorously opposed SB 163, which will have a particularly adverse impact on small business owners and their employees based on its ambiguous and overly broad language. “Connecticut can—and must—do better than this if we want to unlock the state’s tremendous potential and build an economy with opportunities for all residents,” DiPentima said.
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“We are grateful for those lawmakers that opposed this bill and appreciate the courage they showed in standing up to special interests that seem determined to destroy our ability to compete. “Connecticut must focus on rebuilding its economy, making the state more affordable for residents and businesses, growing our population, and strengthening one of the best workforces in the world.”
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CBIA IS FIGHTING TO MAKE CONNECTICUT A TOP STATE FOR BUSINESS, JOBS, AND ECONOMIC GROWTH. A BETTER BUSINESS CLIMATE MEANS A BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR EVERYONE.