Six Walmart employees who held a relatively small and brief protest inside the Richmond store in 2012 — partly to speak out against an abusive supervisor who was accused of placing a rope on a store counter before making a racist comment to a black employee — were unlawfully disciplined, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled last week.
Following a 2-1 decision, NLRB ordered Walmart to rescind its disciplinary action against the employees, who stopped working before the store opened at 6 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2012 and assembled in the customer service area near the store entrance. The protest followed a complaint letter from workers to management regarding the abusive supervisor and additionally demanded permanent jobs for temporary workers for a store remodeling project.
Last week’s NLRB decision also ordered Walmart to allow employees in California stores to wear union insignia on their clothing and prohibited supervisors from threatening workers.
The one dissenting board member argued that the protest should have been held outside of the store.
Walmart officials said they would consider appealing the board’s ruling in federal court.
“No customers or associates [employees] should be prevented from shopping or working because of a group demonstration,” the company said, according to news media reports.
On the day of the protest in 2012, the six workers were joined by a number of non employee protesters when the store opened. In the customer service area, they displayed a banner that read, “Stand Up, Live Better, ForRespect.org, Our Walmart, Organization United for Respect at Walmart.”
While the protest and banner occurred inside the store, the NLRB’s majority decision noted that none of the few customers entering the store at that time sought assistance in the area where the protest occurred.
When employees offered to return to work later in the day, they were accepted, but issued with disciplinary coachings that could lead to their termination in the event of future infractions.
The protest that was subject to the NLRB ruling came one month after a larger protest was held at the Richmond store in October 2012. After the larger protest, supervisor Art Van Riper was quoted as saying, “If it were up to me, I’d shoot the union.”
Van Riper was also the supervisor accused of placing a rope on the counter of the Richmond store and telling a black employee that “if it were up to me, I would put that rope around your neck,” the board said.