Worker Freedom Bill Passed in Oregon to Allow Workers to Avoid Mandatory Political or Religious Meetings in Workplace

Too often workers are forced by employers to listen to religious, political, or anti-union propaganda that has nothing to do with their work responsibilities-- yet they are threatened with being fired if they don't attend such employer-mandated meetings.  The Oregon legislature this past week joined New Jersey in giving employees the right to skip such employer propaganda meetings without fearing reprisals.

Oregon's Senate Bill 519 is based on a pretty common sense principle of freedom in our society: individuals shouldn't be forced on pain of firing to hear their religion, politics, or union attacked.  Nothing in the bill prevents an employer from using work space and time to present the employer's view on those subjects, as long as attendance is voluntary (and nothing in the bill gives employees space and time to present alternative viewpoints. Religious and political organizations would be exempt from the law as well).  An employee's right to just skip the meeting is pretty much the most minimal version of freedom you'd expect in a non-totalitarian society.

And yet employers still opposed even this minimal silent free speech right for their employees.  In many ways, the best argument for the bill is the one made by its chief opponent.  J.L. Wilson, a vice president with Associated Oregon Industries, argued:

"Employees work at the pleasure of the employer and the employer is entitled to make a request or demands on an employee's time if the employer pays for it."

So employees in J.L. Wilson's view have zero rights and exist at "the pleasure of the employer"-- essentially the doctrine of every totalitarian society where any rights for individuals is treated as an attack of the ruler.  But as Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, noted, "All this does is protect the natural rights of employees; it doesn't hinder employers in any way." 

As we described last year, New Jersey was the first state to approve a "Worker Freedom" law back in 2006, although the Colorado legislature approved it as well that same year only to see it vetoed by their governor. Chambers in New Hampshire, Michigan and Vermont have all approved Worker Freedom bills as well.

Oregon SB 519
Progressive States Network - Protecting Worker Freedom from Mandatory Meetings
AFL-CIO - Oregon Bill Bans Mandatory Anti-Union Meetings
Paul Secunda - Towards the Viability of State-Based Legislation to Address Workplace Captive Audience Meetings in the United States