Federal agency charges Walmart with violating workers' rights in 14 states
National Labor Relations Board says retail giant disciplined, fired employees taking part in legally protected strikes
Walmart has been the subject of an ongoing campaign by those opposed to its treatment of employees.Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint against Walmart on Wednesday, alleging the world's largest retailer violated labor laws in 14 states through actions it took against striking workers.
A complaint issued by the NLRB's general counsel's office said Walmart representatives appeared on national news broadcasts and threatened to retaliate against workers if they went on strike. It also alleged they disciplined and fired workers for engaging in legally protected protest activity.
According to the NLRB complaint, 19 employees were discharged “allegedly as a result of their participation in activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act.”
More than 60 Walmart supervisors and one corporate officer are named in the filing.
Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said, "We believe that our actions were valid. We take our obligations very seriously. We look forward to sharing our side of the facts in these cases with a judge."
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The NLRB, the federal agency that oversees union elections and polices unfair labor practices, investigates 20,000 to 30,000 allegations of National Labor Relations Act violations made annually by employees, unions and employers. More than half are withdrawn or dismissed.
In the Walmart case, a preliminary investigation by the NLRB revealed that charges against the retailer likely had merit. Settlement negotiations were unsuccessful, so one of the board's 26 regional directors issued a complaint detailing the alleged violations.
Most of the allegations in the complaint released Wednesday focused on management's response to Walmart workers who participated in strikes at stores in California, Kentucky, Texas, Washington and elsewhere in May and June 2013.
Dozens of employees received verbal and written warnings, formal reprimands and other kinds of discipline after striking last year for improved wages and working conditions at Walmart stores, according to the complaint.
Since May 2013, Walmart has also improperly categorized workers' time spent participating in legally protected strikes as unexcused absences, the complaint stated.
Protest against Walmart’s labor practices culminated in a series of demonstrations and action to coincide with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the U.S.’s biggest shopping days.
The retailer has known since November that the NLRB had authorized issuance of a complaint, but a settlement has not been reached. Walmart now has until Jan. 28 to respond to Wednesday's filing.
The next step is for an NLRB administrative law judge to oversee a trial to determine whether Walmart broke the law. The judge's findings will then be adopted or rejected by the five-member board.
Al Jazeera and Reuters