Wal-Mart Stores Inc. illegally retaliated against protesting U.S. workers, the National Labor Relations Board said in a complaint stemming from job actions timed to the busy shopping day after the Thanksgiving holiday.
The labor board said yesterday that Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, threatened, disciplined and fired employees who took part in strikes and protests at 34 stores in 14 states during the past two years.
“Wal-Mart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we’re paid,” Barbara Collins, a fired Wal-Mart worker from Placerville, California, who’s one of the workers named in the complaint, said in a statement. “Now the federal government is confirming what we already know: We have the right to speak out, and Wal-Mart fired me and my coworkers illegally.”
While the complaint is a victory for labor groups, it may also become ammunition for critics of the board under President Barack Obama, according to Gary Chaison, a labor law professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. The board already faces a challenge heard at the Supreme Court this week in which a company said Obama’s appointments to the board during what the administration called a Senate recess were illegal.
If the Supreme Court rules that Obama’s recess appointments were invalid, about 1,000 decisions and orders issued by the board would come into question.
“The recess appointment brings up the image of the labor board being essentially pro-union,” Chaison said in an interview. “They’re getting involved in cases when in fact the Supreme Court may actually reverse and undue many of their past decisions.”
Labor groups led by the United Food and Commercial Workers union have sought to organize the retail giant, one of the nation’s largest employers, as their membership has declined. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company has more than 1.3 million U.S. employees.
Wal-Mart looks forward to answering the charges, Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an interview.
“We look forward to the opportunity to shed some light on the facts of the case,” Buchanan said. “Associates in this case were not terminated for participating in union activity. In many cases, terminations occurred because of violations of policy including attendance.”
The UFCW backs Making Change at Walmart and Our Walmart, two employee groups that participated in the protests. The charges date to Nov. 17, 2012, when managers started telling employees they would be disciplined if they walked out ahead of “Black Friday,” one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Sixty-three Wal-Mart supervisors and one corporate officer are named in the board’s complaint. Almost 70 workers were fired or disciplined, according to a statement from the union.
The labor board told Wal-Mart that complaints were being considered in November. Negotiations failed to reach a settlement. Wal-Mart has until Jan. 28 to respond to the complaint. A hearing date has not been set.
Wal-Mart could be forced to rehire workers, pay back wages and reverse disciplinary actions taken against employees, according to the UFCW.