To the Editor:
Beginning in early 2021, workers from across the state and across our nation began quitting their jobs in large numbers, creating the phenomenon now known as the Great Resignation. The majority of workers who quit cited low pay, no opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work as their top reasons for leaving.
Fast forward to today and workers still face bad jobs but have decided they no longer plan to quit. Rather, working people have begun to stand together to fight for fair wages, affordable benefits, respect, and a voice on the job. While there have been some high-profile victories recently – most notably at Starbucks and Amazon – these critical victories for workers happen too infrequently. Despite 68% of Americans approving of labor unions, including 47% of Republicans, the share of workers that belong to a union has dropped below 11%. That’s because labor laws heavily favor large corporations.
The legislature will soon be voting on a bill that will allow an employee to leave a meeting held by their employer and return to work when the subject of the meeting is about their employer’s position on politics, religion, or union organizing. These types of meetings are often referred to as captive audience meetings because that is exactly what they are.
In order to fully understand what it’s like to take part in a captive audience anti-union meeting, I want to you to imagine that you are Shellie Parsons – a full-time employee at Dollar General in Barkhamsted, a part-time housekeeper and a single mom. Each day you rush between jobs and parenting responsibilities trying to get ahead and make a life for yourself and your young daughter. After your workload increases with no corresponding increase in your minimum wage pay, you finally make the decision to join with your coworkers and try to form a union. You are scared to lose your job and your hand shakes as you call the union organizer. Even so, when the time comes to meet with the union, you bravely list the things you would like to improve and together, with your coworkers, sign union cards and take the first step towards a union.
Within a matter of days your workplace is swarmed with managers you have never seen and anti- union consultants are flown in from across the country – two consultants for each worker to be exact. Over the next month you are repeatedly pulled into meetings with these high-paid employer mouthpieces and they tell you all the reasons why you cannot have a union. You are threatened that the store might close, you will never see a wage increase, and be forced to strike. You are fed threats and misinformation over and over, during every single shift, in groups and one-on-one. Since you are on the clock, you’re mandated to sit through each meeting or face discipline if you leave.
Your employer divides your coworkers and creates such a sense of anxiety that all you want is for it to be over. When election day comes you hope that your coworkers have stuck together and remembered the reasons you wanted to organize in the first place. However, when the last vote is counted it is apparent that one of your coworkers was so scared, they changed their mind and you will no longer have the protection you so desperately desired.
This is a fundamental freedom of speech issue for workers. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that it is a form of coercion to make people listen to another’s speech and that no one has the right to force someone to listen to them. In this country, you are paid to go to work and perform a job. You’re not paid to listen to your boss speak about his views about unions, politics, or religion. We believe strongly in these rights in Connecticut and it is time that our laws reflect that. Employees should be able to decide who they are voting for, what church they are attending or whether or not to join a union free from intimidation from their employer. This bill merely seeks to guarantee that remains true in the Connecticut.
Petronella is the President of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371, which represents over 8,000 members who work in retail food, food service, food processing and healthcare.