Wal-Mart Worker Walkout on Black Friday Raises Questions

scales-gavel.jpgEmployers were undoubtedly interested in the news of the mass walkouts on Black Friday organized across the country by Wal-Mart workers. The workers walked out, demanding better wages and benefits. Wal-Mart requested an injunction from the National Labor Relations Board, but did not receive one. From a legal perspective, the walkout presents a few questions for employers. Namely, can employees be fired for walking out on the job? Also, what was the basis of Wal-Mart’s request to the NLRB?

It may come as a surprise that what the Wal-Mart employees did was legal under the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRA protects employees who engage in protected, concerted activity. This means that if they work together in a concerted manner regarding wages, hours, or terms and conditions of employment, their employer cannot take adverse action against them in response. Additionally, if one employee works to attempt to inspire concerted activity regarding wages, hours, or terms and conditions of employment, he or she is protected. As such, the employees’ decision to walk out en masse is protected by federal law, and Wal-Mart is prohibited from disciplining them.

It was widely reported that Wal-Mart requested an injunction from the NLRB, but was not successful. Wal-Mart argued that the walkouts were not spontaneously organized expressions of frustration from their employees, but were an attempt to obtain recognition for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) as the representative of the workers. The NLRA permits picketing for recognition in certain circumstances, but such picketing cannot continue for more than 30 days. Wal-Mart argued that, since the protests have been going on throughout the fall, they were illegally continuing for more than 30 days. According to the New York Times, the protesters have stated that they are acting independently of the UFCW.