In a "huge victory" for workers, a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) judge ruled Thursday that Walmart illegally fired 16 associates who took part in a 2013 strike outside the company's headquarters and must offer to reinstate them.
NLRB Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter said Thursday that the retail giant violated labor law by "disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike."
"Not only is this a huge victory for those workers and Walmart workers everywhere who continue to stand up for better working conditions, but it sends a message to Walmart that its workers cannot be silenced," said Jess Levin, communications director for Making Change at Walmart (MCAW), a union-backed campaign "challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families."
The ruling was issued in a case filed in 2014 on behalf of the worker organization OUR Walmart over the company's retaliation against employees who participated in a June 2013 "Ride for Respect" protest outside of Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas during an annual shareholder meeting. The action was organized to call attention to the company's low wages and policies preventing workers from unionizing.
As Common Dreams previously reported, Walmart's crackdown included recruiting the FBI and military contractor Lockheed Martin to spy on organizers ahead of the Arkansas strike.
Carter ruled on Thursday that the Ride for Respect action was a legally protected strike, rather than an "intermittent work stoppage," which is not shielded by law. Walmart associates who participated in Ride for Respect "typically were on strike for at least a full week...therefore took on more risk as strikers, since they forewent wages for a longer period of time and faced a higher risk of being replaced due to their extended absences from the workplace," he wrote.
Carter ordered Walmart to reinstate the 16 employees who were fired for taking part in the action and make them "whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits suffered as a result of the discrimination against them."
He also said the company must hold meetings in 29 stores to inform employees of their rights to form a union and vow not to threaten or retaliate against workers who participate in strikes.
"Today’s decision proves beyond doubt that Walmart unlawfully fired, threatened, and disciplined hard-working employees simply for speaking out," MCAW's Levin said. "We will continue to fight to change Walmart for the better."