Illinois Labor and Human Rights Leaders Applaud Passage of the Illinois Worker Freedom of Speech Act (SB3649)

Illinois Labor and Human Rights Leaders Applaud Passage of the Illinois Worker Freedom of Speech Act (SB3649)
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Illinois Labor and Human Rights Leaders Applaud Passage of the Illinois Worker Freedom of Speech Act (SB3649) (Springfield, IL) — Earlier today, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to protect workers from unwanted or offensive political and religious speech unrelated to job performance. If signed, Illinois would be the 8th state to enact legislation with these protections. The bill had the support of a diverse group of stakeholders, including the Illinois AFL-CIO, Chicago Federation of Labor, Equality Illinois, Planned Parenthood, Citizen Action, Women Employed, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, and Raise the Floor Alliance.

“Captive audience meetings are a direct violation of workers’ rights. They force our most vulnerable employees to choose between their job and personal values,” stated Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea. “Employers are increasingly using the workplace to advance their political and religious interests, and this creates an atmosphere ripe for coercion. The Worker Freedom of Speech Act ensures that workers are protected when choose to walk away from these meetings.”

The Worker Freedom of Speech Act is designed to prohibit employers from threatening, disciplining, firing, or otherwise retaliating against workers who refuse to attend mandatory workplace meetings focused on communicating opinions on political or religious matters. It will not prevent employers from holding meetings, only protect workers who choose not to engage in matters unrelated to their work.

“The Illinois General Assembly did the right thing today by taking a stand to protect workers from captive audience meetings,” remarked Cherita Ellens, President and CEO of Women Employed. “Coercive speech causes particular harm for groups of workers who are already vulnerable to discrimination and unfair treatment at work—including Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, and disabled workers. Today’s passage of the Illinois Worker Freedom of Speech Act lets working people know that they are valued, and that Illinois will not tolerate employer abuses.”

Legislation to protect workers from coercive speech is particularly important for Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, disabled, formerly incarcerated, and other groups of workers who face unequal treatment and discrimination in the labor market. According to the Economic Policy Institute, structural racism and discrimination in the form of systematically higher unemployment rates, higher job search costs, lower wages, and greater tolerance for unfair treatment put these workers in a disadvantaged position to resist employer abuses.

“The Worker Freedom of Speech Act demonstrates our state’s and the labor movement’s commitment to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ workers,” noted Brian C. Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois. “The Act thoughtfully aligns the imperative of workplace democracy with the need for civil and collaborative places of employment that are free from harassment and discrimination. This is essential because LGBTQ+ workers disproportionately experience discrimination and harassment in their workplaces. We appreciate our partners at the Illinois AFL-CIO for their collaborative work on this legislation and their deep commitment to advancing and protecting the labor rights of LGBTQ+ people.”

Captive audience meetings are the employer-preferred method of union busting. An analysis of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections documents shows that 89% of all employers conduct captive audience meetings in response to unionization efforts. Furthermore, the use of captive audience meetings caused the average union election win rate to fall as low as 47%.

The Act includes a private right of action for individual employees, and enforcement through the Illinois Department of Labor. Employers will be required to post a notice of employee rights where employee notices are customarily placed. Once signed into law, the act will take effect January 1, 2025.

Illinois Labor and Human Rights Leaders Applaud Passage of the Illinois Worker Freedom of Speech Act (SB3649)


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