Recently, in an effort similar to the fast-food workers’ one-day strike, Walmart employees in 15 different cities protested the company’s disciplinary actions toward 80 employees who were part of a previous protest. While Walmart officials claim that the disciplinary actions had nothing to do with the protest, Walmart employees claim otherwise, and were illegal, given that the protest was over unfair labor practices. Employer acts that punish employees for striking over unfair labor practices violate the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Until recently, strikes protesting Walmart’s treatment of employees were rare. Those who did protest faced stiff consequences, such as 60 Walmart employees in California who were fired after protesting outside of a shareholders meeting. Employees who dared to strike often received little support. This time, however, Walmart employees received support from an advocacy group intended to organize them, called OUR Walmart. The goals of OUR Walmart include instituting minimum pay of $13 per hour, full-time jobs available to those who want them, predictable work schedules and health care that is affordable. Some common complaints about Walmart are that it provides jobs that are less than full time in order to circumvent federal health care law, yet has unpredictable shifts that prevent employees from taking on second jobs to make ends meet.
While Walmart officials argue that hourly workers earn close to $13 an hour anyway, other groups place the average at less than $9 per hour, barely enough to cover gas, food, and rent. Meanwhile, Walmart continues to profit even in an uncertain economy, churning out $444 billion in sales in 2012, and with higher profits in the first two quarters of 2013.
The NLRA protects employees who strike from being fired under certain circumstances. These employees do not need to be part of a union — they only need to be on strike. The employees with the most protections are those who strike in protest of an employer’s unfair labor practice. While they are out on strike, they cannot be discharged or permanently replaced unless they engaged in serious misconduct during the strike. Employees who are “economic strikers,” on the other hand, are not protected from being replaced by their employers. Economic strikers protest in favor of higher wages, shorter hours, or better working conditions. These employees may be replaced by other employees for the duration of the strike. If the employer hires “bona fide permanent replacements,” the original employees cannot return to their jobs after the strike is over — they can only be recalled to jobs for which they are qualified if there is a job opening, and only if the original employees do not obtain regular and substantially equivalent employment.
The outcome of the Walmart protests could have a fundamental impact on wages and company practices nationwide. In the meantime, if you believe that you have been fired unjustly for going on strike, contact a Kentucky labor law attorney today.
Charles W. Miller & Associates is a plaintiffs law firm serving residents of Kentucky and Indiana. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the firm provides representation in the areas of personal injury and employment law. Contact us today for a free consultation.