About exactly a year ago, I wrongly predicted that Walmart wouldn't fire their striking workers. The article was called Why Walmart Won't Fire Striking Workers - And What That Means For You. The reason I predicted that they wouldn't fire their workers for striking is that the National Labor Relations Act says even non-union American workers have the right to strike and take other actions to protest and try to improve working conditions, and they can't be fired in retaliation.
Despite my warning that the strikers couldn't be legally fired, at least 23 workers were fired and another 43 were disciplined. Well, the NLRB didn't take that sitting down. They just slapped Walmart hard, announcing they will pursue legal claims against Walmart for the employees, which means these employees may get reinstated and awarded back pay.
Here's what NLRB said about Walmart's actions: “During two national television news broadcasts and in statements to
employees at Walmart stores in California and Texas, Walmart unlawfully
threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and
protests on November 22, 2012.” NLRB also found that, “Walmart stores in
California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland,
Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington
unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for
having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.”
What this means is we can expect more Black Friday protests, and probably more battles to improve working conditions at Walmart.
Just a reminder - before you run out the door with placards to protest your workplace, the National Labor Relations Act only covers non-supervisory employees, and while it covers most non-government workplaces, it doesn't cover them all. Plus, you have to be part of "concerted activity" with coworkers to be protected. If you're protesting your own working conditions, you aren't protected
against retaliation. However, if you are objecting to something that
affects at least one co-worker, or with at least one co-worker, then you
may be legally protected.
If you are thinking about organizing at work, smaller micro-unions are now allowed. This means that you don't have to organize the whole company anymore, but can organize a specific group of workers. For instance, a court recently allowed a union to organize a group of nursing assistants at a hospital. The employer thought other non-professional employees should be included, but the smaller unit was approved.
If you decide you want to organize a union at work, or want to know more about your rights to discuss and improve working conditions, I suggest contacting a union like AFL-CIO to get some help and legal advice. There are some legal hoops you'll have to jump through if you actually form a union.
Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.