The National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) is a federal law that protects workers’ rights to organize for higher wages and better working conditions. Specifically, Section 7 of the Act provides that “employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, … and to engage in in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection.” The NLRA prohibits employers from “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed” by Section 7 of the Act.
Recently, Wal-Mart has been accused of violating the NLRA in connection with protests that occurred at the retail company’s stores across the country on Black Friday 2012. On January 14, the National Labor Relations Board issued an order consolidating five cases filed against Wal-Mart, which alleged that the company retaliated against workers who participated in strikes or protests against the company.
According to the complaint, some employees were told that if they missed work because of a strike they would be subject to discipline or fired. The complaint alleges that Wal-Mart fired 19 employees who participated in the strikes and protests and maintains a policy that treats absences for participation in strikes as unexcused activity.
Furthermore, in February of 2013, managers, assistant managers, and shift managers at various Wal-Mart locations throughout the country allegedly read a corporate memorandum stating that:
“It is very important for you to understand that the Company does not agree that these hit-and-run work stoppages are protected, and not that it has done the legal 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 … The Company does not believe that these union-orchestrated hit-and-run work stoppages are protected activity.”
In addition, during two national television news broadcasts that aired on November 19, 2012 and November 20, 2012 a Wal-Mart vice president allegedly made statements that unlawfully threatened employees with retaliation if they engaged in strikes or protests.
According to the NLRB’s press release, the consolidated complaint was ready to be filed in November of 2013, but the NLRB attempted to settle the matter with Wal-Mart. These settlement efforts proved unsuccessful.Wal-Mart is required to file an answer to the complaint and a hearing will be conducted before an administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board. The Wal-Mart employees are seeking reinstatement, back pay, and an order requiring Wal-Mart to post a notice in all its stores informing workers of their federally protected rights to engage in organizing activity.
If you are the owner or manager of a business, it is important that you consult with qualified legal counsel if your employees are working collectively to obtain higher pay or better working conditions. As demonstrated by the National Labor Relations Board complaint against Wal-Mart, it is illegal for management to threaten or retaliate against employees who are engaging in activity protected by the NLRA and your company could be subject to fines and penalties for doing so.
Author Bio: Glenn Phillips is founder of the Phillips Law Firm and has tried more than 100 civil jury trials in cases involving employment discrimination, workers’ compensation, medical malpractice, and defective products. Mr. Phillips and his colleagues at the Phillips Law Firm are currently representing over 4,000 individuals in lawsuits involving dangerous drugs and defective medical devices, such as Accutane, Yaz/Yasmin/Ocella, Fosamax, Avandia, Medtronic Infuse, GranuFlo, Mirena, and Risperdal. A strong believer in giving back to the community, Mr. Phillips is a member of the American Association of Justice, the Washington State Association for Justice, and Public Justice, a national legal non-profit that works to protect people and the environment.