Wal-Mart makes headlines fairly regularly these days. Occasionally, the headlines are good sometimes the headlines are not good. One of the recent less positive headlines came in the form of a picture of food collection bins for Wal-Mart employees by Wal-Mart employees at a Cleveland Wal-Mart Superstore store. Some employees felt the need to start a food drive for their fellow employees who could not afford to have holiday dinners, for whatever reason. Obviously, there are a number of reasons why an employee would not be able to afford a holiday meal. Some reasons could be a reduction is child support, a complicated or expensive illness, or another unexpected expense that took money away from holiday food shopping. However, the picture sparked reactions ranging from support for the effort to create a sense of community with the employees to outrage that employees needed to help support their fellow, underpaid, low-wage co-workers. Outrage, of course, was the strongest reaction as it went along well with the protests over low wages that took place across the country this year.
While the picture and the current protests have brought renewed attention to issues of wages, hours, and employer retaliation, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was already investigating the situation surrounding last year’s Wal-Mart employee’s Black Friday protest. The NLRB, which for the first time in 10 years has a full board membership, investigated claims that Wal-Mart used unfair labor practices when attempting to handle and prevent last year’s protests. According to the Los Angeles Times article, the NLRB found that Wal-Mart acted unlawfully when it threatened reprisal against employees if they went on strike, when it disciplined employees that did strike, and in its treatment of other employees before the anticipated strike. The article notes that the findings are not actual charges against Wal-Mart and that Wal-Mart has the opportunity to reach an agreement with the employees it wronged. However if no settlement is reached, the NLRB can bring charges against Wal-Mart and the settlement terms would be made for Wal-Mart and could include back pay and reinstatement for some of the wrongfully terminated employees.
The National Labor Relations Board investigates, prosecutes, and adjudicates unfair labor practice claims within the private employment sector. The NLRB is divided and functions like the state and federal judicial system. It has a General Counsel whose responsibility, like an Attorney General’s, is to overseen investigations and determines if prosecution is necessary and the Board itself, like the courts, adjudicates the cases the General Counsel brings before it. Unlike the most state court and attorney general positions, all of the Board and the General Counsel must be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The NLRB is an independent federal agency with offices across the country, including Seattle. Its purpose is to protect employees from illegal employer actions, as well as protect employers from unfounded allegations of mistreatment.
If you believe you have suffered from an unfair labor practice, an experienced employment law attorney can be of assistance.