The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that Walmart Stores Inc. unlawfully retaliated against and threatened workers who took part in strikes and protests in more than a dozen states during the last two years. The NLRB ruled that Walmart must fully reinstate the 16 wrongfully terminated employees with back pay. In total, however, Walmart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in legally protected activities to complain about wages and working conditions.
The complaint from the NLRB follows unsuccessful settlement discussions. The labor board's general counsel originally laid out the charges last November, but held off on filing a complaint while trying to work out a settlement with Walmart Stores.
“[The NLRB’s] decision proves beyond doubt that Walmart unlawfully fired, threatened, and disciplined hard-working employees simply for speaking out,” said Jess Levin, communications director for Making Change At Walmart (MCAW), a national campaign to change Walmart’s business practices. “Not only is this a huge victory for those workers and Walmart workers everywhere who continue to stand up for better working conditions, but it sends a message to Walmart that its workers cannot be silenced. We will continue to fight to change Walmart for the better.”
According to its website, “Making Change at Walmart is a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), we are a coalition of Walmart associates, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women’s advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is vital for the future of our country.”
[sws_pullquote_right] See Also: Walmart Ordered To Pay Over $31 Million For Retaliation, Gender Bias [/sws_pullquote_right]
As the largest private employer in the United States (and the entire world), Walmart is setting the standard for jobs, and organizations such as MCAW and the NLRB are starting to take notice.
Walmart experienced employee strikes in October and November of 2012. The following February, Walmart decided that it would not technically discipline any associates for participating in those strikes, but would instead apply its progressive attendance policy to any future strike participation.
To communicate its decision, Walmart had its store managers contact each striker individually during one of their shifts and explain Walmart’s stance on the strikes:
“The Company believes that those union-orchestrated hit-and-run work stoppages are not protected by federal labor law. It is very important for you to understand that the Company does not agree that these hit-and-run work stoppages are protected, and now that it has done the legal 45 thinking on the subject, it will not excuse them in the future. Should you participate in further union-orchestrated intermittent work stoppages that are part of a common plan or design to disrupt and confuse the Company’s business operations, you should expect that the Company will treat any such absence as it would any other unexcused absence. Having said that, let me emphasize that the Company respects your right to support a union and to engage in other protected, concerted activity. It also respects your right to not engage in such activity. But the Company does not believe that these union-orchestrated hit-and-run work stoppages are protected activity.”
How can the company both respect its employees’ rights to engage in protected activity while simultaneously deeming that the employees are not actually engaging in protected activity? It can’t, according to Geoffrey Carter, Administrative Law Judge for the NLRB:
“By, in or about February 2013, in eleven stores, reading talking points to associates that could be reasonably construed as prohibiting protected strike activity, Walmart announced an unlawful work rule in violation of federal law.”
Walmart disagrees, standing firm in its belief that its actions were legal and justified. “We continue to believe that we acted respectfully and, more importantly, acted lawfully in these incident,” said Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, in responding to the NLRB's complaint.
Walmart workers will no longer stay silent about their grievances in light of this NLRB finding. “Walmart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we’re paid,” said Barbara Collins, former Walmart worker from California. Collins is one of the nearly 70 workers named in the NLRB complaint. “But too much is at stake — the strength of our economy and the security of our families — to stay silent about why Walmart needs to improve jobs.”
View the 137-page decision here.