News & Commentary

March 3, 2024

Otto Barenberg

Otto Barenberg is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, Washington moves closer to banning captive audience meetings and Subway employees strike over workplace violence.

On Thursday, Washington legislators passed a bill (SB 5778) banning captive audience meetings. Governor Jay Inslee (D) has voiced his support for the measure, which, if signed into law, would make Washington the sixth state with a captive audience ban after Oregon, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, and New York. At the federal level, although National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo contends captive audience meetings are inherently coercive and violate national labor law, the Board has not yet issued a ruling on the issue.

Worker advocates and unions celebrated the Washington bill’s passage, saying that a ban on mandatory anti-union meetings would deprive companies of a powerful weapon in their union-busting arsenals. Rick Hicks, Teamsters Western Region International Vice President and President of Teamsters Joint Council 28, commented: “Unions are fundamentally about economic democracy, which is why we need to make the process of organizing as democratic as possible by putting an end to this autocratic practice.” However, business groups have brought litigation challenging bans on captive audience meetings in Minnesota and Connecticut, arguing that they constitute “viewpoint-based discrimination” and are preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. Supporters counter that the bans leave employers free to express their views on unions and prohibit only a requirement that workers listen as a condition of their employment. 

On Friday, employees at a Subway in western Los Angeles launched a three-day strike in response to a wave of violence at their sandwich shop. Workers described harrowing interactions with customers, including one man who yelled expletives at employees while brandishing a machete. “The feeling that we were alone and that our management would not help us was disheartening,” Subway employee Sabina Gutierrez told the Los Angeles Daily News. She and other Subway employees are demanding the company provide de-escalation trainings, health care for workers subjected to workplace violence, and heightened security. Workers are also pushing Los Angeles to enact a Fast Food Fair Work ordinance requiring “know your rights” trainings, as well as paid time off and fair scheduling practices. The strike marks an early test for the California Fast Food Workers Union (CFFWU), the new Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-backed representative of the western Los Angeles Subway workers. In a novel approach, CFFWU aims to compel fast food companies to engage in sectoral bargaining by expanding its membership across California’s fast-food industry, without seeking NLRB certification at the establishment level.

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