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NLRB Authorizes Complaints Against Wal-Mart, Awaits Offer for Fired Workers

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
By Ben Penn

Nov. 19 --The National Labor Relations Board's Office of the General Counsel has authorized the issuance of unfair labor practice complaints against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., finding merit to some of the allegations stemming from employee protest activity one year ago, the board announced Nov. 18.

The NLRB is now waiting for Wal-Mart to respond and possibly negotiate a settlement to avoid an administrative trial. “If the parties cannot reach settlements in these cases, complaints will issue,” the board's statement said.

“We're hoping to hear back from their attorneys in the next week or two; it's not something that's going to go on for months,” Gregory King, an NLRB spokesman told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 19.

In response to ULP charges first filed Nov. 20, 2012, by the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), an independent, nonprofit coalition supporting the retailer's hourly employees, , the NLRB investigation found merit in some, but not all, of the allegations.

The meritorious allegations impact 117 employees at Wal-Mart locations in 14 states, according to a statement from Making Change at Walmart, which is a coalition composed of Wal-Mart employees, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, community organizations, women's advocacy groups, multiethnic coalitions, elected officials and citizens. The United Food and Commercial Workers provides support to both OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart.

The allegations the NLRB general counsel authorized for prosecution include the unlawful threatening of “employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests on Nov. 22, 2012,” delivered on national television and “in statements to employees at Wal-Mart stores in California and Texas,” the NLRB said in its announcement.

Further, the investigation revealed stores in 13 states “unlawfully threatened, disciplined and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.”

According to Making Change at Walmart, as a result of the decision to prosecute, “[w]orkers could be awarded back pay, reinstatement and the reversal of disciplinary actions through the decision; and Walmart could be required to inform and educate all employees of their legally protected rights.”

According to Wal-Mart, “the remaining claims are at a procedural step in an ongoing process, and we look forward to continuing to work with the NLRB and using this opportunity to shed light on the facts.”

“We've treated the associates in these cases respectfully and lawfully, and we're pleased that several of the claims were found to be without merit,” Wal-Mart said.

Investigation Findings Applauded
“The Board's decision confirms what Walmart workers have long known: the company is illegally trying to silence employees who speak out for better jobs,” Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice and American Rights at Work, said in the Making Change at Walmart statement.

“Americans believe that we have the responsibility--and the right--to speak out against corporate abuses of workers, and this proves we're finally being heard, and making kinks in Walmart's armor,” Gupta added.

The ULP charges stemmed from Wal-Mart's reaction to the Black Friday strikes at stores across the country last year, actions that organizers plan to replicate this year on Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving and the start of the traditional Christmas shopping season .

In a national conference call to reporters Nov. 18, hours before the complaints were authorized, leaders of the AFL-CIO, the UFCW and other organizations announced plans to ramp up efforts to improve wages and working conditions for Wal-Mart workers.

Other Retaliation Charges Dismissed
The NLRB investigation also concluded that there was “no merit, absent appeal,” to allegations that Wal-Mart stores in Illinois and Texas interfered “with employees' right to strike by telling large groups of non-employee protestors to move from Wal-Mart's property to public property,” in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

Further, Wal-Mart stores in California and Washington “did not unlawfully change work schedules, disparately apply their policies or otherwise coerce employees in retaliation for their exercise of statutory rights,” the investigation found.

However the general counsel's office found merit to alleged violations that Wal-Mart stores in four states “threatened, surveilled, disciplined and/or terminated employees in anticipation of or in response to employees' other protected concerted activities.”

The charge that Wal-Mart threatened reprisal to strike participants on national television, pertained to a Nov. 20 interview given by Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar in which he said “ 'there would be consequences' for workers who did not come in for scheduled shifts on Black Friday,” according to the Making Change at Walmart statement.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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