Right before the series of Black Friday protests conducted by Wal-Mart employees across the country, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that the retailer had broken the law when it fired and harassed employees who spoke up against company exploitation and went on strike. As a result, the NLRB will prosecute Wal-Mart’s actions, involving 117 workers, which include the workers who went out on strike this past June. It is expected that the NLRB’s ruling will increase the likelihood of strikes in the future, given that Wal-Mart employees by and large still must contend with low pay, few benefits, and unpredictable work schedules.
The NLRB ruling may require Wal-Mart to reinstate the dismissed workers and provide them with back pay, as well as to inform employees of their full legal rights. However, the NLRB cannot impose fines on companies that violate these rights. Among those who have already been reinstated are Aaron Lawson of Kentucky, who was initially fired for distributing flyers and protesting Wal-Mart’s efforts to silence employees who sought better wages and hours. Wal-Mart finally reached a settlement with Lawson, where the retailer agreed to rehire him with full back wages representing the time he was out of work. The NLRB had also previously decided to prosecute Wal-Mart for violating federal labor laws 11 times in California, when managers made threats to employees around Black Friday.
The above intimidation is just part of a long pattern of Wal-Mart indifference toward worker protections and hostility toward worker activism, which includes breaking the law by retaliating against protest activities, paying female employees less for doing the same work as male employees, violating environmental laws, and exploiting immigrant labor.
Unions hailed the NLRB’s decision, stating that Wal-Mart needs to start having real conversations with its employees instead of just resorting to intimidation. Because of the recent decision, more workers will likely feel encouraged to strike in protest of their pay and working conditions — including on Black Friday. The Black Friday protestors called for Wal-Mart to increase hours to full time so that they could at least earn a minimum wage of $25,000 a year. Right now, as many as two-thirds of Wal-Mart’s employees make less than that amount, or 825,000 people. While Wal-Mart is not the only company to exploit its workers in such a way, it is one of the largest and therefore its actions influence those of other retail companies. By forcing Wal-Mart to comply with the law and improve worker conditions, the NLRB and union organizers may convince other companies to do so as well. In addition, those who live in Kentucky who have been fired for engaging in striking or other protests can hire a Kentucky labor law attorney to defend their rights.
Miller & Falkner is a plaintiffs law firm serving residents of Kentucky and Indiana. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. Contact us today for a free consultation.