Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Most Important Labor Action in Years Approaches

It's really hard to come up with enough superlatives to describe how important these black Friday strike at Walmarts are for workers rights in the United States. Josh Eidelson: (who has been amazing in his coverage of these strikes)

Weeks into a wave of historic strikes, and days before a planned Black Friday showdown, Walmart has filed a National Labor Relations Board charge alleging that the pickets are illegal and asking for a judge to shut them down. Walmart is no stranger to the NLRB: labor groups have filed numerous charges there accusing the retail giant of punishing or threatening activist workers, including dozens over the past few months. But this charge is the first one filed by the company in a decade. It will pose a decision for a judge and, even sooner, for the Labor Board’s Obama-appointed acting general counsel, who’s been a lightning rod for past Republican attacks.

The National Labor Relations Board, created by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, is tasked with enforcing and interpreting private sector labor law. Walmart’s charge, filed Thursday night and reported by Reuters Friday evening, sets two processes in motion. The first, which could take months, is the full investigation and resolution of the allegation, beginning with fact-finding by board agents based in Walmart’s backyard (NLRB Region 26, which covers Arkansas and three other states). The second, which could advance as soon as this week, is the decision whether to grant an injunction restricting strikes against Walmart while the investigation proceeds. Experts say NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon would have final say over whether the board seeks the injunction; if it does, a district court judge will decide whether to grant it.

While the NLRB is most often criticized by conservatives, its swiftest and strongest remedies are devoted to restricting unions. Federal law requires the NLRB to prioritize employers’ allegations of illegal picketing over other charges, and to request an injunction to stop the picketing if it finds “reasonable cause” to believe such allegations are correct, and expects to issue a complaint (the equivalent of an indictment). So injunctions restricting picketing are often granted within a few days of workers’ going on strike (in contrast, workers who allege they were fired for their union activism often wait for months, injunction-less, to find out whether they’ll get their jobs back). Experts say that, if Walmart has strong enough evidence, an injunction could potentially be issued in time to block Black Friday pickets. But that’s a very big “if.”

Not only would these black Friday strikes deal a economic/PR blow to Walmart on their busiest day of the year, but they would empower other Walmart workers across the country who face the same issues on the job. Go do ourwalmart.org and to see if there is anything you can do to support a store on Black Friday. If you live in the DC area, I know that the Hyattsville Walmart will have workers out on strike. Even stopping by with some donuts or coffee would be a big help.  These people are working minimum wage jobs, and risking what little pay and security they have this Friday. Their courage should inspire us all.

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