An outdoors sign for Walmart is seen in Duarte, Calif.(Photo: By Damian Dovarganes, AP)
WASHINGTON (CBSNews.com) - Federal officials have filed a formal complaint charging that Walmart (WMT) violated the rights of protesting and striking workers last year.
The National Labor Relations Board says Walmart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in legally protected activities to complain about wages and working conditions.
The labor board's general counsel first laid out the charges last November, but held off on filing a complaint while trying to work out a settlement with Walmart. The NLRB found that stores in more than a dozen states had "unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees" for having participated in legally protected strikes and protests, among other violations.
In its complaint, the labor board cited an internal Walmart memorandum that it said a company official
read to workers in February of 2013 that address labor actions against the retailer:
"[I]t 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 said, according to the board's complaint. "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 company says its actions were legal and justified. "We continue to believe that we acted respectfully and, more importantly, acted lawfully in these incident," said Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for Walmart, in responding to the NLRB's complaint.
The complaint will go before an administrative law judge. If Walmart is found liable, it could be required to award workers back pay, reinstatement and reverse any disciplinary action.
Walmart, which had more than 2 million employees and is the world's largest retailer, has faced a number of labor protests over the last year.
Workers and labor activists in November staged hundreds of protests at Walmart stores in major cities across the U.S., including the Bay Area, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, to demand a pay increase and better working conditions. Employees also have accused the company of punishing workers who participate in such labor actions.
"Walmart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we're paid," said Barbara Collins, a former Walmart worker from Placerville, Calif., who is one of the nearly 70 workers named in the NLRB complaint, in a statement released by Our Walmart a labor union-backed group that has led protests against the retailer. "But too much is at stake-the strength of our economy and the security of our families-to stay silent about why Walmart needs to improve jobs.
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