Voters agree: There’s nothing wrong with employer meetings on unionization

Published in the Washington Times
October 12, 2022
by F. Vincent Vernuccio, president of the Institute for the American Worker

The National Labor Relations Board, which is stacked with pro-union Biden appointees, is trying to curb employer meetings on unionization, or EMUs.

Here’s what happens in an EMU: In response to a unionization drive or the threat of one, an employer gathers together all workers during normal office hours to discuss unionization. In these meetings, employees learn about their rights and the employer conveys their view of how a union would impact company operations.

Employers are legally prohibited from interrogating, threatening, or making promises during union organizing efforts, which is when many of these EMUs occur. By contrast, unions have little to no restrictions on their speech, including what they can promise to potential members, making the need for EMUs even more important.

EMUs have been recognized in federal law since the late 1940s, and when employers step over the line on any of those fronts, unions are quick to file grievances.

Some workers may like the opportunity that an EMU provides to explore all of the ramifications of a unionization vote. Other workers may simply go because it is just another all-staff meeting such as a safety or anti-discrimination training session, and they are, of course, paid for their time.

Voters are on balance favorable to EMUs, as shown in a recent Institute for the American Worker online survey of 1,000 national likely voters conducted Aug. 2-9 by the bipartisan firm Forbes Tate Partners.

After a neutral description of EMUs, voters overwhelmingly held positive or at worst neutral views toward these meetings. Very few had negative views on them. Overall, the numbers were 41% positive, 43% neutral and only 12% negative.

Interestingly, two subgroups with the most positive opinions of these meetings after that description was given were Democrats, at 48% positive (vs. 10% negative) and union members themselves at a whopping 59% positive (vs. 10% negative).

When people learned more, the results were even more favorable to EMUs. Overall, 57% thought these meetings were essential to learning about labor rights and ensuring fairness in the decision to unionize. Only 23% opposed them and believed they are unfair. Pluralities said that unions were most likely to benefit from taking EMUs away and that workers, not companies, were most likely to be harmed.

And yet the NLRB wants to stop these meetings. NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo uses biased language when talking about these meetings, calling them “captive audience meetings.” She has asked the NLRB board to find that these meetings, which have been the law of the land since 1948, are a violation of federal labor law. In addition, she wants to ensure that employers cannot (as she puts it) “corner” employees and talk to them about unionization.

This is clearly a pro-union tilt on Ms. Abruzzo’s part. If she really cared about workers being harassed, she would allow them to opt out of having their contact information shared with unions by their companies (which the NLRB requires, and work to ensure that union representatives cannot “corner” workers at their homes to solicit their support, a common practice.

In the place of EMU meetings, Ms. Abruzzo would make these meetings by employers optional yet do nothing to change the ability of unions to campaign publicly outside he workplace. If the goal were to cut down on pressure from either side, making EMUs optional could backfire. Workers who want to know about their rights could be intimidated by fellow pro-unionization employees or folks pushing unionization could take a tally of those going into the meetings and target them for future home-based persuasion.

EMUs are fair and work just fine for what they are: a chance for the company to make the case to its workers about why a more direct relationship is better than union interference in the workplace. EMUs allow private companies to exercise their First Amendment free speech rights and workers to make a more informed choice. Even current union members regard this as a good thing. The NLRB needs to consider what has worked for over half a century and act in the best interest of workers.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is president of the Institute for the American Worker.