The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against a major union for using front groups to stage disruptive Black Friday protests in a Michigan Walmart.
The NLRB ordered the United Food and Commercial Workers union and OUR Walmart—a worker center the union funds—to cease and desist from "restraining and coercing employees" during protests.
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Two officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers union allegedly stormed into a Dearborn store’s electronics department with "50 to 80 unknown individuals" and interfered with shoppers and intimidated employees. Eight other protesters, including one man, then barged into the women’s rest room and "coercively interrogated an employee regarding her wages, hours and working conditions," according to the NLRB complaint released on March 29.
The UFCW did not return requests for comment.
Federal labor law bars unions from interfering in business operations directly during strikes and protests, but those tactics have been common in Walmart and fast food protests in recent months. Protesters have gone largely unpunished by relying on non-profit worker centers to sponsors the rallies. Nonprofit groups are not subject to the laws that limit unions, despite the millions of dollars that worker centers receive from Big Labor groups like the UFCW and SEIU.
Ryan Williams, spokesman for Worker Center Watch, said that the complaint could signal that "egregious" worker center tactics could trigger federal labor watchdogs to close the nonprofit loophole.
"There’s 100 years of civil labor law to protect from coercion and intimidation form both sides. Worker centers skirt that law to berate employees, intimidate customers, and undermine the law that’s supposed to protect people from this behavior," Williams said.
NLRB regional director Terry Morgan demanded that the Dearborn union put an end to the disruptive protests.
"The General Counsel further prays for such other relief as may be just and proper to remedy the unfair labor practices herein alleged," the complaint said.
Worker centers have enjoyed explosive growth in recent years among traditional unions. AFL-CIO honcho Richard Trumka called them the "future" of the labor movement in September and urged other unions to embrace the model. Fred Wszolek, spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute, said that the complaint could breed "trouble on the horizon" for labor organizers.
"The UFCW cannot afford to settle this case because they want to protect these tactics," he said. "So this is a fairly high stakes issue because it could disarm the tactics that make worker centers attractive front groups."
Williams, whose group has been monitoring worker center activities for years, said that federal labor regulators should rein in the groups. The tactics used in the Dearborn store have been popular at many Walmart and fast-food protests sponsored by worker centers.
"This complaint could have been lodged at any Walmart across the country. It’s a nationwide problem with worker centers using thuggish tactics to push a liberal agenda," he said.
Williams expects the union to appeal the regional director’s complaint to the five-member NLRB board, which is the agency’s highest arbiter. The board’s decision could establish precedent that worker centers and their union sponsors are branches of the same tree and should be regulated as such.
"These tactics have become so blatantly absurd that this board dominated by Obama-appointed union lackeys has to take notice," he said. "Hopefully this will lead to long-term recognition that worker centers execute the functions of unions and should be subjected to the same standards."