News Law and Policy

Walmart Guilty of Illegally Intimidating Workers, Judge Rules

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The decision from a National Labor Relations Board ordered the retail giant to stop retaliating against workers who want to join a union.

Walmart managers in California illegally disciplined employees for going on strike and threatened to close a store if its employees joined an advocacy group working for higher wages, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge ruled.

The decision, made public last week, involved a complaint filed with the NLRB by Our Walmart, a union-backed group of Walmart employees that claimed that officials at Walmart stores in Placerville and Richmond, California, had intimidated workers in violation of federal labor laws.

The Our Walmart organization is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers union and has organized a string of protests against Walmart over the past three years, pointing to a host of bad labor practices.

Most recently, on Black Friday, Our Walmart sponsored protests at Walmart stores across the country, calling for a $15 base wage for workers, more full-time jobs, and an end to what it says is illegal intimidation and dismissals.

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Walmart is the number one employer of Latinos, Blacks, and the elderly nationwide, and while people of color made up 39 percent of Walmart’s U.S. workforce in 2014, only 29 percent of Walmart management is comprised of people of color.

NLRB administrative law judge Geoffrey Carter found that a Walmart manager had illegally intimated workers by telling employees that coworkers returning from a one-day strike would have to look for a new job, as reported by the New York Times.

Carter also reportedly ruled that one Walmart manager had engaged in unlawful intimidation when he told an Our Walmart supporter who had a rope tied around his waist in order to pull a heavy load of merchandise, “If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck.”

Federal labor law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for supporting a union and from making intimidating statements that discourage workers from backing a union.

Carter ordered Walmart to stop intimidating workers in Richmond, California, and to remove any reference to disciplinary write-ups ordered because employees had gone on strike.

Walmart is reportedly appealing the NLRB decision.

The retail giant is no stranger to labor and employment disputes and has a history of aggressively fighting them in court. In 2011, the retail giant claimed victory when, after years of litigation, the Roberts Court revoked class-action certification from what would have been one of the largest gender bias lawsuits of its kind.

At the time of the decision, more than 1.5 million female Walmart workers claimed the retailer unlawfully discriminated against them when it came to their pay and promotions thanks to a corporate culture that enabled stereotyping of female workers.

The Supreme Court rejected these claims, holding that the women didn’t have enough in common to justify hearing their claims against Walmart together as one case, and ordered the litigation returned to the lower courts. That litigation is ongoing.

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