What This Means for Unions: The NLRB Judges Decision; Walmart Strikes Lawful, Must Reinstate Workers

This week Reuters broke the news that the National Labor Relations Board Judge found the 2013 Walmart strikes lawful and they must offer to reinstate 16 dismissed employees.

The Ruling
Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter said in a ruling posted on the board’s website that the U.S. retailer violated labor law by “disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike”.

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The ruling was hailed by labor group Making Change at Walmart as a “huge victory” for employees, although Walmart indicated it would likely appeal the decision to the labor agency’s board in a statement:

“We disagree with the Administrative Law Judge’s recommended findings and we will pursue all of our options to defend the company because we believe our actions were legal and justified,” Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg said (@korylundberg).

Walmart had argued that it was lawful to discipline workers with unexcused absences to participate in the protests because the strikes constituted “intermittent work stoppages” not protected under labor law.

But the judge found this case differed materially from other previous work stoppages not protected by law because, among other factors, it was not a brief strike – meaning the risk for workers was higher – and because it was not scheduled close in time with other strikes.

Judge Carter ordered Walmart to offer 16 former workers their previous jobs and make them “whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits suffered as a result of the discrimination against them”.

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Union Built PC spoke to a former Walmart Employee for his feedback on his victory… and when it is a victory at all:

“As a former Walmart employee about a decade ago, I remember how hard I laughed when my training had anti-union videos that seriously reminded me of cold war era propaganda.

“‘If you are approached by a Union Representative” – shows shady person approaching you in the clothing section as if he’s about to flash you – “don’t’ talk, get a manager to have them escorted off the premise immediately.’

“And I ‘loved’ receiving my evals; “Outstanding. Excellent. Outstanding. Enjoy your .10 raise.”

“I don’t bear any ill will to my former employer, but they definitely abused their workers when it came to pay. All under the banner of ‘the customer is always right’ and under the guise of corporate profits.”

This video is shown to all associates at on-boarding – it is mandatory that everyone working for Walmart understands they are “better off” without a union! This training video – boasting the care and concern Sam Walton has for its employees – actually leaked and posted to social platforms such as YouTube (see minute marks 2:34 and 6:45).

The Impact… Is it a “huge victory”?
Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter also ordered Walmart to hold a meeting in more than two dozen stores to inform workers of their rights to organize under U.S. labor law.

The impact, if any, the decision would have on the efforts by Making Change at Walmart and other groups to pressure Walmart on wages and benefits is unclear. The UFCW has tried for years to organize Walmart workers and the hurdles remain high. With a consistent history of anti-union messaging presented to their employees – and a statement already issued by Walmart spokesman Lundberg disagreeing with these with intent to file appeal defend the company on the grounds their actions were legal and justified – how can we trust the meetings ordered by Judge Geoffrey Carter will be transparent and without bias?

We suppose Union Built PC will need to source out more Walmart employees who attended one of these meetings to understand just how clearly their right to organize under U.S. Labor Law was communicated.

Your Turn

What do you think of Judge Geoffrey Carter’s decision? What impact do you think it will have on Walmart Workers? How do you feel about the inevitable Walmart appeal?

Sound off in Comments, on our Facebook Page and #UnionStrong Facebook Group, and on our Twitter or LinkedIn Pages… And don’t forget to subscribe to the Union Built PC monthly eNewsletter where we regularly cover topics related to the Labor Movement and have a regular feature called #WalmartWatch.


Additional Sources: Nathan Layne, Reuters

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Commentary: As Supreme Court Weighs Unions, Middle Class Hangs In the Balance

by Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune

I don’t belong to a union. I didn’t have to because my maternal grandfather was a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. His brother was, too, and their sister belonged to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Another brother drove a taxi, a union button pinned to his cap.

They were part of a labor movement that was midwife to the American middle class.

Unions never enrolled a majority of workers. At their high point in the 1950s, they counted a third of American workers as members. But their impact was far greater. Where unions are strong, nonunion workers benefit because employers offer competitive wages to keep their workforce from defecting.

That’s how I got to wear a white shirt and tie, the dress uniform of the middle class. I was a child during the Great Depression, when my father sometimes drove a cab. Other times he was a furniture mover, and most often he was out of work. Then defense production for World War II kicked off an economic boom, and my father became a department store salesman.

There was no union, as many white-collar workers disdained the labor movement as beneath their newfound dignity. But salaries were decent, buoyed by the general rise in pay as unions got members a bigger slice of the pie. My father could afford for me to stay in school and go to college. So here I am. And not just me. Such was the experience of myriad families.

Think about that as the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with the issues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

Earlier this month the justices heard oral arguments in the case that turns on the so-called no-free-lunch provision of the union contract in a school district near Anaheim, Calif. It requires teachers to pay a portion of the union’s dues even if they choose not to join. Several teachers sued, claiming that violates their First Amendment rights. Unions take political positions, the teachers noted, with which they might not agree.

By the union’s logic, all teachers benefit from the salary scale it negotiates. So shouldn’t all have to pay their share of the cost of negotiating a contract? Can’t the free-speech issue can be addressed by giving nonmembers a discount — subtracting an amount proportional to what the union spends on political activities?

Some legal scholars say it’s hard to imagine a line cleanly separating politicking from collective bargaining. Fair enough, but should the justices agree, it will close a chapter of what, in the heady days of the 1960s, was proclaimed “People’s History.” The story of the little guy. The kind who carries a lunchbox and a thermos to work.

Before unions, he long got the short end of the stick. His work day was arduous — 10 and even 12 hours was the norm — and extra pay for overtime was unheard of. In the needle trades, when orders backed up, the boss’ mantra was: “If you don’t come in on Sunday, don’t bother to come in on Monday.” Unions were handicapped by courts declaring them a “conspiracy.” Even when unions got a toehold, progress was painfully slow.

My grandfather supplemented his sweatshop wages by working evenings at home. I can still see him sitting behind a sewing machine, occasionally joining the conversation between running a line of stitches. Yet even then, the union provided a benefit: an exhilarating sense that a worker wasn’t on his own. My grandmother complained that all her husband wanted to talk about was “shop, shop, union, union.”

The benefits got more tangible in the postwar decades. Industries that had held union organizers at bay were organized. Assembly line workers got contracts, and the nation’s demography was radically altered. Most societies look like a pyramid: a few rich people at the top, a lot of poor people at the bottom, and a small middle class in between. But America’s profile got a potbelly: the middle class grew until, by 1971, it was larger than the upper and lower classes combined.

Ordinary folks bought homes and, every few years, could trade in their car for a newer model. They proudly watched their kids go off to college.

But beginning in the 1970s, the process was reversed. Decade after decade, the middle class declined and its clout was lost proportionally. Now a week doesn’t go by without the media or a blogger proclaiming that America’s middle class is getting squeezed out.

As the Great Recession eased, upper-income folks did nicely. Middle-class families went back to the short end of the stick. No voice insisted that they get a fair share of the pie — as the labor movement did at the end of the Great Depression. Union membership has declined to about 11 percent of the workforce. Organized labor’s remaining strength is in public-sector unions, and that is up for grabs — pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on the no-free-lunch issue.

Yet if its fate is sealed, it deserves a proper obituary. So let us remember the mothers and fathers of the middle class, brave souls who persuaded others to sign petitions asking for union representation. Who denied themselves a paycheck by voting to strike. Who walked picket lines. Who came home bubbling over with news of the shop and the union, the shop and the union.

Your Turn

What do you think the impact will be as the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with the issues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association? Sound off in Comments, on the Union Built PC Facebook Page or in the #UnionStrong Facebook Group. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly eNewsletter for articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.