Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT:US) illegally retaliated against protesting U.S. workers, the National Labor Relations Board said in a complaint a union called one of the largest ever filed against a employer.
The labor board said Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, threatened, disciplined and fired employees who took part in strikes and protests at 34 stores in 14 states over the past two years.
“Wal-Mart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we’re paid,” Barbara Collins, a fired Wal-Mart worker from Placerville, California, who is one of the workers named in the complaint, said in a statement. “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.”
The complaint is a victory for labor groups led by the United Food and Commercial Workers union which have sought to organize the retail giant, one of the nation’s largest employers, as their membership has declined. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company has more than 1.3 million U.S. employees.
Wal-Mart looks forward to answering the charges, Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the company, said.
“We believe that its unacceptable that someone can come and go from a scheduled shift as part of a union orchestrated PR campaign without being held accountable,” Buchanan said in an interview. “We at Wal-Mart now have the opportunity to share the facts in these cases with an administrative law judge.”
The UFCW backs Making Change at Walmart and Our Walmart, two employee groups that participated in the protests. The charges date to Nov. 17, 2012, when managers started telling employees they would be disciplined if they walked out ahead of “Black Friday,” one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year.
Sixty-three Wal-Mart supervisors and one corporate officer are named in the board’s complaint. Almost 70 workers were fired or disciplined, according to a statement from the union.
The labor board told Wal-Mart that complaints were being considered in November. Negotiations failed to reach a settlement. Wal-Mart has until Jan. 28 to respond to the complaint. A hearing date has not been set.
Wal-Mart could be forced to rehire workers, pay back wages and reverse disciplinary actions taken against employees, according to the UFCW.
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