Jorge Cabrera

State Senator

Jorge Cabrera

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working Together to Solve Problems

April 21, 2022

Sen. Cabrera Votes to Protect the Rights of Workers to Join Together for Better Wages,
Benefits and Working Conditions Without Fear or Intimidation

HARTFORD, CT – Today, state Senator Jorge Cabrera (D-Hamden) voted in favor of legislation to protect workers’ rights. The bill passed by a 23-11 vote in the state Senate. Senate Bill 163, An Act Protecting Employee Freedom of Speech and Conscience, “generally prohibits employers, including the state and its political subdivisions, from disciplining or discharging (i.e., penalizing) an employee or threatening to do so because the employee refused to attend employer-sponsored meetings, listen to speech, or view communications primarily intended to convey the employer’s opinion about religious or political matters,” according to Office of Legislative Research bill analysis. Sen. Cabrera said this is crucial protection for workers.

“As a union leader, I know the positive and empowering effect unions have on employees and worker conditions in the workplace,” said Sen. Cabrera. “I am also aware, and often outraged, at the intimidation tactics often deployed on employees with even the thought of joining a union, and frequent, closed-door mandatory meetings is a commonly used tactic to intimidate workers through misinformation and threats. Senate Bill 163 creates a standard, prohibiting employers from disciplining or firing workers if they exercise their rights to decline to attend these meetings and be a captive audience to intimidation.”

Per the legislation, political matters” relates to the following:

  • Elections for political office
  • Political parties
  • Proposals to change legislation or regulation
  • Decisions to join or support a political party or political, civic, community, fraternal, or labor organization

Under SB 163, Religious matters relates to:

  • Religious affiliation and practice
  • Decisions to join or support a religious organization or association

SB 163 sets a minimum state labor standard, like setting a state minimum wage or state health and safety standards. It protects employees’ psychological safety on the job just as state health and safety laws protect employees’ physical safety on the job. This legislation accomplishes these protections for employees without infringing on employers’ First Amendment rights. Rather, it affirms the employer’s First Amendment right to call an employee meeting at any time on any subject. It does not prevent employers or anyone else from discussing religion, politics or other topics. SB 163 only prohibits the firing (or otherwise disciplining) of employees who leave the meeting because they do not wish to listen to the employer’s opinions about religion or politics.

SB 163 prioritizes the rights of workers and received support from many during the public testimony period of the legislative session. Rob Baril, president of Meriden District 1199NE said “I’ll start by saying that one of the only vehicles for working people to have a better life is by coming together to form a union and have a voice on their job. Unfortunately, during the process, workers are forced to be a part of captive audience or group meetings and also one on one meetings. These meetings are intended to intimidate workers and deter them from forming a union.’ They added, “Senate Bill 163 allows employees the right — when the subject of the meeting is about the employers’ position on politics, religion or labor organizing — to stop listening, walk away, return to work and not participate without the fear of facing discipline or termination.”

The International Union of Operating Engineers also provided testimony in support of this important bill stating it is needed in work climates that may intimidate workers. “Employees are constantly observed, made false promises, and sometimes even harassed for the slightest hint that they might be considering siding with our union before an NLRB-conducted election for representation.”

Madeline Granato, the policy director of Connecticut Women’s education and Legal Fund, spoke to the importance of unions and the how this legislation protects the rights of workers to organize and join if they see fit. “Unions boost workers’ economic security. Workers who join together to bargain wages, hours and working conditions earn better wages, utilize fewer safety net services, and experience less turnover than non-union workers. When workers organize to form unions, however, Connecticut employers frequently utilize captive audience meetings and other hostile tactics. Captive audience meetings are mandatory, closed-door meetings during work hours, that often deter workers from choosing a union.”

Legislation similar to SB 163 is gaining traction nationwide. Oregon, Wisconsin, and New Jersey have passed similar legislation. At least 13 other state legislatures have considered this issue, including Massachusetts, and New York. SB 163 passed the Judiciary Committee by a 23-15 tally on March 29.