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Labor wins two rulings, Walmart vows to fight back

A worker in a warehouse that moves Walmart goods.

Walmart's corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, where temporary warehouse workers from Southern California and Illinois have brought petitions for better wages and working conditions to present to company executives. 

Warehouse workers at a union-backed protest at the Crenshaw Mall in Los Angeles, where there is a Walmart store, in 2012. 

Labor advocates scored two legal victories this week in their multi-pronged campaign against retail giant Walmart: at the National Labor Relations Board, and in a federal court in Southern California. In both cases, Walmart has pledged to fight the charges.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder, of California's Central District, reaffirmed an earlier decision that a class-action lawsuit (Carrillo v. Schneider Logistics) filed on behalf of warehouse workers who loaded goods for Walmart outside Los Angeles, can go forward. The judge rejected the claim by Walmart and Schneider (a national logistics company that operates warehouses for Walmart), that she should dismiss the lawsuit because the warehouse workers were directly employed and paid by subcontractors (in this case, temporary staffing agencies), and not Walmart or Schneider.

And on Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel issued a formal complaint against Walmart for allegedly taking illegal retaliation against dozens of Walmart workers in 14 states. Those workers (many affiliated with the group OUR Walmart, backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union) had engaged in protests and strikes over wages and working conditions. More than sixty Walmart supervisors and one company executive are named in the complaint, for allegedly threatening workers who participated in strikes at Walmart stores in May and June of 2013, in California, Kentucky, Texas, Washington and other states. The NLRB complaint says the workers were given written and verbal warnings and reprimands for striking. The complaint also says Walmart has miscategorized time spent on strike as an ‘unexcused absence’ from work.

Walmart spokesman  Kory Lundberg told Marketplace on Wednesday that the company looks forward to making its case on the merits of the NLRB complaint, and believes it will be vindicated. The case will come before an administrative law judge after Walmart files its response to the general counsel’s complaint at the end of January. The judge’s decision on Walmart’s culpability will then be accepted or rejected by the full five-member NLRB board.

"No reasonable person thinks it’s OK for someone to come and go from scheduled shifts as part of a union-organized campaign without being held accountable," Lundberg said of the Walmart workers who went on strike at stores last year.

Labor attorney Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon LLP in San Francisco, who is representing warehouse workers in the Carrillo case and has followed the worker-retaliation case as well, says the NLRB complaint is significant. "Retaliation is usually an individual-by-individual matter," says Rubin. "It is a big deal if a company had a nationwide policy or practice, established, implemented, or overseen from corporate headquarters, to retaliate against on-the-ground employees."

In reference to Judge Snyder’s denial of Walmart’s motion to dismiss the Carrillo class-action case (which alleges wage theft and other labor violations in Southern California warehouses operated for Walmart), Rubin says the judge has let the plaintiffs’ argument that Walmart was a 'joint employer' of the workers go forward. That is in spite of Walmart's claim that it was a 'customer' of the warehouse operator, Schneider Logistics, and wasn’t directly responsible for the subcontracted temporary workers’ wages or working conditions. 

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

Walmart's corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, where temporary warehouse workers from Southern California and Illinois have brought petitions for better wages and working conditions to present to company executives. 

Warehouse workers at a union-backed protest at the Crenshaw Mall in Los Angeles, where there is a Walmart store, in 2012. 

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