There’s a battle brewing on the horizon, and it may be much more significant than many people would ever think. Earlier this week, the National Labor Relations Board filed a formal complaint against Wal-Mart Stores for actions related to protests held against the company on Black Friday.
A formal complaint filed Wednesday revealed that Wal-Mart Stores may be navigating legal drama in the near future on account of its actions in response to a strike in 2012 orchestrated by union-backed group OUR Walmart. Black Friday has long been a big day for retailers, but it was an especially epic — and not in a good way — day for Wal-Mart in 2012 ,when workers across 46 states walked off the job and participated in legally protected activities to campaign for higher wages and better working conditions.
One year later, the dust has settled, but Wal-Mart may still face consequences for the way it responded to its employees’ actions in 2012. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that federal officials filed a formal complaint this week, charging the nation’s largest retailer with violating the rights of workers and illegally firing, disciplining, or threatening its employees who participated in the Black Friday strike.
Wal-Mart workers struck on Black Friday again in 2013, although the number of participating employees was not as significant. Wal-Mart has shown no hesitation about letting disgruntled employees go, but the NLRB alleges that the company illegally fired 19 workers on account of their participation in the 2012 strike. The complaint also states that Wal-Mart unlawfully threatened, disciplined, or terminated workers for participating in strikes and protests in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.
The reason the NLRB’s actions may be a bit more than what most people think is because the NLRB is filing this complaint on behalf of non-union member workers. As this country has seen union membership dwindle, there will be more and more cases of the NLRB representing non-union workers in complaints against employers. The outcome of these cases will likely determine the future course of this country in regards to organized labor.
“This is part of a drive by the NLRB to further police employees’ labor rights in the non-unionized workforce,” said Paul Secunda, a professor of labor law at Marquette University.
“If the NLRB can go after Wal-Mart and be successful, that sends a shot across the bow to all employers across the line – to employers that are similar in size, to smaller employers – that they are under the jurisdiction of the NLRB,” he said.
In addition, the Wal-Mart case weaves together complaints on behalf of 19 fired workers, as opposed to handling one complaint at a time. That makes it “precedent-setting,” said Sarita Gupta of Jobs With Justice, a workers’ rights group.
“A victory for the board and the union could have symbolic importance for unionizing drives across the country,” said Michael Gold, a professor of labor law at Cornell University.
“Just the opposite is true – if Wal-Mart wins the case, they are really going to trumpet it. They are going to tell their workers, with good cause, ‘we did not break the law. The government persecuted us for nothing,'” he said.
Wal-Mart has until January 28th to respond. After that, the case will go before an administrative law judge. I find it very unlikely that Wal-Mart would decide to settle the case out of court, so this will likely be a case to follow for the next year or two while it works its way through the court system.
Over the past 40 years, this country has seen wages stagnate, the middle class start to shrink, and union membership dwindle while the top 10% of income earners have reaped most of the rewards for the economic expansion in this country. I think that the destruction of organized labor plays a part of this along with the monetization of our economy. We’ve also gone from a manufacturing based economy to a service based one within that same time span. If the corporations themselves are not willing to look at the pay structure and reward workers accordingly for the increased production with fewer workers, they are ultimately going to push American workers back to the point where unionization will appear to be the only method of seeking relief. Sometimes, you can fight so hard against something that you wind up making it happen anyway. This may be one of those cases.