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Thanksgiving and Black Friday Protests: Unfair Labor Practices?

Thanksgiving and Black Friday Protests: Unfair Labor Practices?

A look into the future of the American workplace.

For some Americans, Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday presented opportunities to shop for long-awaited holiday deals.  For others, it was an opportunity to protest what they believe to be unfair labor practices and to advocate for better wages and benefits from their employers.

Perhaps the most highly publicized protest involved workers and supporters against Walmart throughout the United States, along with a pre-Thanksgiving Day protest led by members and supporters of the SEIU United Area Service Workers West in the area near the Los Angeles World Airport.

While there are varying opinions regarding the merit and value of these and other labor protests, the protests themselves raise critical questions under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the federal labor laws.

What the NLRA Protects

Enacted by Congress in 1935, the NLRA seeks to protect the rights of employees and employers with respect to private sector labor practices. Whether unionized or not, the NLRA provides employees the right to “engage in concerted activity”. This means they have the right to work together to try improving their pay and job-related working conditions without fear of retaliation such as being fired, disciplined, suspended or otherwise penalized.

The NLRA also provides protections to employers. For example, labor unions (including striking or protesting employees) are prohibited from engaging in any conduct which threatens, assaults or prohibits customers or non-striking employees from entering the premises of the employer.

Two Sides of the Story

When an employer or employee believes the other has violated a provision under the NLRA, the party claiming the violation has the right to file an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Board which enforces the NLRA.

In the case of the Walmart protests, both sides have acted:

  1. Walmart filed an unfair labor charge asserting that the strikes were illegal and asking a court to shut them down.
  2. The United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW), the labor organization seeking to unionize Walmart workers, has filed multiple unfair labor charges accusing Walmart of retaliating against the workers involved in the labor activities.

Recognizing the complexity and sensitivity of the issues presented, the NLRB has yet to rule on the unfair labor charges and has expressed the need for more time. Given our ever evolving world and the state of our national and global economies, watching how the story unfolds between our nation’s labor unions and large employers such as Walmart, will be intriguing and a true view into the future of the American workplace.