Ryan Sarni, Attorney, Labor Relations
Millions of Americans look forward to getting great deals on holiday presents on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. However, people going to Wal-Mart on Black Friday may be greeted by a large scale employee walk-out. On October 4th, a group of Wal-Mart workers in California staged a one-day walkout, which was followed by small groups of employees throughout the country. Now, with the help of labor organizers, many Wal-Mart employees are trying to organize a Black Friday walkout through social media. Believe it or not, what these employees have done and are planning to do is entirely legal.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects “protected, concerted activity” among both union and non-union employees. Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that “employees who jointly participate in a walkout… to present job related grievances to management are engaged in protected concerted activity… regardless of whether the employees are members of a union.” As such, interfering or restraining this activity in any way, such as disciplining or terminating employees for it, is a violation of federal law, regardless of whether an employer has a policy against such action. See NLRB v. Washington Aluminum Co., 370 US 9 (1962)
Employers should note that the NLRA only protects concerted, ie multiple employee, activity. As such, if one employee complains about working conditions and walks out, he or she is not protected. If two or more do, they are protected. While employers cannot terminate the employees, they don’t have to pay them. Additionally, they could replace them with other workers in certain circumstances. MSEC Labor Relations attorneys are available to answer questions on these and other NLRA questions.