WASHINGTON -The National Labor Relations Board issued the largest-ever complaint against Walmart today for breaking federal labor law by violating workers' rights. The complaint alleges Walmart illegally fired and disciplined nearly 70 workers, including those who went on strike last June to speak out for better jobs.
The NLRB asserts illegal activities in 14 states at 34 stores and shows that company executives conceived-and oversaw implementation-of an unlawful retaliation policy for store managers to execute. The complaint-the largest ever against Walmart in both size and scale-names 63 individual store managers, and company spokesperson and vice president of communication David Tovar as being responsible for illegal threats made to employees.
Walmart workers, part of the national organization OUR Walmart, have been taking the country's income inequality head on by standing up for better wages at the country's largest employer. While the majority of Walmart associates are paid less than $25,000 a year, Walmart makes $17 billion in annual profits and the Waltons-the richest family in the country-have a combined wealth of $144.7 billion.
"Walmart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we're paid," said Barbara Collins, a fired Walmart worker from Placerville, Calif. who is one of the nearly 70 workers named in the complaint. "But too much is at stake-the strength of our economy and the security of our families-to stay silent about why Walmart needs to improve jobs. Now the federal government is confirming what we already know: we have the right to speak out, and Walmart fired me and my coworkers illegally. With a new CEO taking over in a few weeks, we hope that Walmart will take a new direction in listening to associates and the country in the growing calls to improve jobs."
The complaint details the Board's decision to prosecute the company for its illegal firings and disciplinary actions against workers standing up for better jobs.
The Board's action will provide additional protection for Walmart's 1.3 million employees when they are calling for Walmart to publicly commit to paying workers a minimum of $25,000 a year for full-time work. The complaint addresses threats by managers and the company's national spokesperson for discouraging workers from striking and for taking illegal disciplinary actions against workers who were on legally protected strikes.
If Walmart is found liable, workers could be awarded back pay, reinstatement and the reversal of disciplinary actions through the decision; and Walmart could be required to inform and educate all employees of their legally protected rights. While historic, the complaint alone is not enough to stop Walmart from violating the law. Since the start of the year, Walmart has continued to retaliate against workers who speak out for better jobs.
"Shoppers, workers and activists all stand with Walmart workers calling for a decent day's pay so they can support their families and contribute to the economy. We've never seen a complaint against Walmart of this size or scope, and we're glad the NLRB is taking action. Walmart's attacks on its own employees and cannot go unchecked," said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice. "We are proud to stand with workers calling for respect from Walmart."
"Walmart workers are bravely leading the national movement to end low wage work," said Bill Fletcher Jr., chairman of the Retail Justice Alliance. "Walmart is a major driver of the widening income inequality gap with its low wages that set the standard for retail jobs. We cannot get our economy moving again when the largest employer breaks federal law in an effort to keep wages down. Walmart needs to start following the law and improve jobs by paying workers a living wage."
Today's complaint addresses charges filed one year ago in advance of Black Friday 2012, when Walmart managers escalated their efforts to threaten and discourage workers from going on legally protected strikes. David Tovar, spokesperson for the company, even went so far as to threaten workers on national television, saying "there would be consequences" for workers who did not come in for scheduled shifts on Black Friday.
"Walmart workers like me are calling for better jobs for all Americans," said Colby Harris, a fired worker from Lancaster, Texas. "It's not right that so many of us are struggling to get by on less than $25,000 a year while the Waltons have more wealth than 42 percent of American families combined. Today the federal government confirmed that Walmart is not above the law, will be held accountable, and I have rights."
Additionally, the complaint covers the illegal firings and disciplinary actions that occurred after 100 striking Walmart workers took their concerns to the company's June shareholder meeting in Bentonville. Support from investors, Walmart workers and the general public continued to grow after tens of thousands of shareholders heard from workers who are OUR Walmart members at the company's annual shareholder meeting.
When these workers returned to work, Walmart systematically fired and disciplined them despite their legally recognized, protected absences. This included disciplinary action against at least 43 workers and the firing of at least another 23 worker-leaders.
Prior to the extended strike in June, American Rights at Work/Jobs with Justice released a white paper documenting Walmart's extensive and systematic efforts to silence associates. At that time, there were more than 150 incidents in stores across the country, with few signs that Walmart would soon stop targeting those who speak out and act collectively.
In other labor charges against Walmart, workers have been winning. In California alone, the National Labor Relations Board recently decided to prosecute Walmart for 11 violations of federal labor law from some threats made around Black Friday in 2012.
In Kentucky, one settlement was reached between Walmart and Aaron Lawson in which Walmart fired Lawson after he distributed flyers and spoke out against the company's attempts to silence those who called for better wages and consistent hours. As part of the settlement, Walmart agreed to rehire Lawson and provide full back wages for the time that he was out of work.
Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP