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Local News

Worker Freedom Act would create fairer organizing conditions in Colorado

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by Franny Alani, Colorado Newsline
May 5, 2024

The Worker Freedom Act, also known as House Bill 24-1260, was recently passed the Colorado state Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.

This legislation would protect workers in the face of captive audience meetings, along with any type of meeting that involves listening to an employer’s political or religious beliefs. I know from personal experience that captive audience meetings weaken workers’ right to take protected concerted activity, create an intimidating workplace environment, and sow doubt, exhaustion, and fear in workers. The Worker Freedom Act would create fairer organizing conditions for workers in Colorado and set a precedent for more states to follow suit.

A regular tactic in employer union-busting campaigns, “captive audience meetings” are typically scheduled during work hours and meant to discourage workers from unionizing or otherwise pursuing collective action. According to a 2009 paper from the Economic Policy Institute, 89% of all employers conduct captive audience meetings in response to workers unionizing and they cause the average union election win rate to fall from 73% to 47%. Unfortunately, they are a powerful tool for employers looking to diminish unionization efforts. 

I am a lead toddler teacher at an early childhood education center in Denver. My co-workers and I went public with our union at the beginning of February, putting forward a positive mission for change and achieving over 70% of co-worker support. Despite this supermajority and many months of organizing, we narrowly lost our union vote a month later. 

Not long after we went public my employer began using union-busting techniques to interfere with our efforts. They hired a “union-avoidance” law firm and began holding meetings for educators with an HR consultant. These meetings were scheduled into our work days and meant teachers were out of their rooms for over an hour at a time on top of lunch breaks. They were disruptive and dysregulating for the children, making our days more emotionally and physically draining. 

These meetings heightened divisions between pro-union and anti-union colleagues by provoking and encouraging anger. During a staff meeting held two days before our election, three members of upper management delivered speeches asking employees to vote against unionization — without forewarning. These meetings had the effect of escalating tensions in the workplace under the guise of informing and sharing perspectives — albeit primarily one-sided — with us. 

Another element of these meetings is how information is conveyed. On the “Union Busting Playbook” website made by Communications Workers of America, one can read about the common bluffs used in captive audience meetings and how they subtly — and sometimes not so subtly — serve to dissuade workers from organizing. At our workplace the anti-union HR consultant leaned strongly on third-partying the union. She centered the conversation not on the educators and our mission but on the union we were hoping to work with. She also portrayed the collective bargaining process towards a contract as out of our hands. In truth, a contract must be democratically voted in by the workers before it is established. This is but one example of the many bluffs heard in these meetings. 

While employers have argued this type of legislation infringes on their freedom of speech, workers deserve the freedom to straightforwardly opt out of meetings that are unrelated to their terms of employment. We deserve to feel unintimidated in choosing not to attend.  

In practice, the Worker Freedom Act would allow workers to opt out of captive audience meetings without fear of retaliation, require employers to post employees’ rights regarding this law, and allow aggrieved employees to bring claims in district court. In an era where workers’ rights are already under attack, I believe HB-1260 in Colorado is a major step towards protecting workers’ efforts to organize and have their collective voice and dignity respected.

This story is republished from CO Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.