NLRB GC Targets CEOs, Continues Campaign Against Employer Speech

By Greg Hoff posted 11-04-2022 00:00


The NLRB ratcheted up its unprecedented campaign against employer speech, filing unfair labor practice complaints against prominent CEOs for alleged anti-union comments.

The complaints reflect General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo’s philosophy that employers are essentially prohibited from making almost any union-related comments during an organizing campaign. 

The first complaint, against Starbucks, stems from comments made by CEO Howard Schultz during a meeting with employees in April. According to the complaint, Schultz told one worker, “if you hate Starbucks so much, why don’t you work somewhere else?” Board prosecutors, on behalf of General Counsel Abruzzo, claimed that the comments unlawfully “threatened employees with discharge by inviting employees to quit their employment because they engaged in union and/or protected concerted activities.” 

The Board similarly went after Amazon CEO Andy Jassy for comments he made during TV interviews. Jassy expressed his personal opinion that employees might be better off without a union and instead “having direct connections with their managers,” and that unionization would make things “much slower” and “more bureaucratic.” According to a Board Regional Director, such comments unlawfully interfered with, restrained, and coerced employees in violation of the NLRA. 

The complaints open a new front in the campaign on employer speech by the Board at the behest of General Counsel Abruzzo. The General Counsel has made no secret of her aims to significantly curtail employer speech – and not just in union campaign settings –issuing a memo earlier this year arguing that nearly any required employer-held meeting could be presumptively unlawful under the NLRA. The complaints filed against the Starbucks’ and Amazon’s CEOs represented a further unprecedented step against employer speech as Board complaints against individual corporate officers are exceedingly rare. 

Outlook: Until the Board itself issues decisions delineating parameters of lawful employer speech, employers are left wondering what they can say to their employees about unionization, if anything at all, without incurring an unfair labor practice allegation from the General Counsel’s office.

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