The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 25, 2008

‘Captive audience’ bill clears House after long debate

CHARLESTON — Critics viewed it as a labor-led attempt to chill free speech of business owners in the work place, especially when union organizers are prowling in the neighborhood.

Supporters, however, saw the so-called “captive audience” bill Monday as a means of shielding workers from having their bosses’ opinions on political and labor issues shoved down their throats.

When the dust settled in an hour-long debate, proponents won by a 64-33 tally that transcended party lines.

One who voted against it, Delegate John Pino, D-Fayette, allowed that some business owners have been shoddy, but told delegates of “many wonderful” firms where no employees’ rights are being abused.

Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, who led the opposition charge, said the nation’s first-ever proposed state law, if approved by the Senate, would trigger lawsuits and scare out-of-state businesses from locating in West Virginia.

“This is a litigation gold mine where these questions are going to be decided in our courts,” he warned.

On the other side, House Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, recalled the fear evident in the eyes of non-union workers he attempted to recruit in his early days as a United Mine Workers of America organizer.

“I have sat at kitchen tables and watched workers tremble,” Caputo said. “If anybody doesn’t believe that happens, I’d love to take you on an organizing campaign from start to finish. I’ve seen workers tremble and fear for their jobs. They have been forced to sit in captive audiences by employers and virtually get pounded on day in and day out.”

Originally, the bill that surfaced in interims and was put before the House early on also embraced religious talks in the work place, but Judiciary Chair Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, said this element was scratched.

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