Wal-Mart illegally punished workers around the country for striking at the busiest time of year, federal officials charged Wednesday.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against the world's No. 1 retailer for allegedly threatening employees to try to prevent the late November strikes, and then disciplining more than 60 workers who participated and firing 19 of them. The company even went as far as to surveil the ring leaders, according to the complaint.
The Wal-Mart strikes occurred in 14 states, where workers were fed up with what they said were low wages and poor working conditions. This happened as the company was controversially preparing to open on Thanksgiving for early Black Friday sales.
"The National Labor Relations Board office of the general counsel has issued a consolidated complaint against Wal-Mart alleging that the company violated the rights of its employees as a result of activities surrounding employee protests in 14 states," the agency said in a statement.
The National Labor Relations Act gives workers the right to strike and makes it illegal for companies to stop them.
In the complaint, the NLRB pointed to a Wal-Mart memo that was given to employees a few months before the strike.
"It is very important for you to understand that the company does not agree that these hit-and-run work stoppages are protected, and now that it has done the legal thinking on the subject, it will not excuse them in the future," the memo read. "Should you participate in further union-orchestrated intermittent work stoppages that are part of a common plan or design to disrupt and confuse the company's business operations, you should expect that the company will treat any such absence as it would any other unexcused absence."
The NLRB said it told Wal-Mart of the pending complaint in November, but failed to reach a settlement with the company, so it is moving forward with legal proceedings. Wal-Mart has until Jan. 28 to respond to the complaint.
"We continue to believe that we acted respectfully and, more importantly, acted lawfully in these incidents," Wal-Mart told CBS.
This could be the first major case for NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin, a controversial figure who recently took over at the agency for Lafe Solomon.