Harold Meyerson writes here about Jennifer Abruzzo’s request to the National Labor Relations Board to ban “captive audience” meetings, in which employers lecture their employees about the dangers of joining a union. Abruzzo is the recently appointed general counsel of the agency, where she has worked for many years. She is in a hurry to restore the original purpose of the NLRB, which was to create a level field for employers and employees.

Meyerson writes in The American Prospect:

By now, it’s clear that Jennifer Abruzzo, the general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board, is both an originalist and an adherent to the belief that the National Labor Relations Act is a law whose interpretations must have some relation to current realities.

One of those realities is that a succession of Board and court rulings over many decades has eroded the act itself, and with it, the very worker rights the act was written to ensure. One of those erosions is the “captive audience” meeting, which employees are compelled to attend, at which their managers subject them to arguments against their going union. The very fact that attendance is compulsory underscores the imbalance of power between boss and worker, such that the meetings constitute an implicit—and sometimes explicit—threat to the workers. The authors of the NLRA meant to give workers the right to freely choose whether to unionize. Compelling workers to attend these meetings (and forbidding union advocates from holding even voluntary meetings at the worksite), Abruzzo argues, erodes that right of free choice.

In a memo she sent to NLRB staff today, Abruzzo announced she would ask the Board to ban such captive audience meetings for violating both the letter and spirit of the NLRA. The act, she wrote, “protects employees’ right to listen as well as their right to refrain from listening to employer speech concerning the exercise of their Section 7 rights”—that is, their rights to freely choose whether or not to unionize and to have a voice on the job. “Forcing employees to listen to such employer speech under threat of discipline—directly leveraging the employees’ dependence on their jobs—plainly chills employees’ protected right to refrain from listening to this speech,” she asserted.

Today’s memo is of a piece with Abruzzo’s previous memos, all of which seek to restore the NLRA to what its authors intended: an act enabling workers to freely choose whether to organize and, if they do so choose, to bargain collectively. As I’ve reported in my profile of Abruzzo, which appears in our April print issue, she has emerged as the most potent champion of worker rights that the government has seen in a great many years, and as such, by happy coincidence, as the most potent ally of the generation of workers we’ve seen unionizing on campuses, at Starbucks, and now, at an Amazon warehouse.

Abruzzo writes lots of these potentially very impactful memos. I’ll try to keep you posted on them as she turns them out.