Recently, five employees of Chicago Lake Liquors in Minneapolis filed unfair-labor-practice charges alleging that they were terminated in violation of the National Labor Relations Act(NLRA). As reported in a City Pages article, the Minneapolis office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined that their charges have “merit.” This means that the NLRB will issue a formal complaint against the store, absent settlement.
The employees at Chicago Lakes Liquors are not represented by a union, but several of the employees are involved with the Industrial Workers of the World Union. (This is the same union that attempted to organize local Jimmy John’s employees, which we previously reported on here.) The liquor-store employees alleged that they signed a petition, asking for higher wages, which they gave to management. Where two or more employees take action to improve their terms and conditions of employment—such as employees requesting a pay raise—this activity is “concerted and protected” under the NLRA. Importantly, this type of activity is protected even if the employees are not represented by a union. It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against employees (discipline, discharge, demote, cut pay, etc.) for engaging in protected and concerted activity.
In this case, the allegation is that, two days after presenting their petition seeking raises, the liquor-store employees were terminated. They claim that management told them that their employment at the store “no longer made business sense.” (One of the employees was two hours late on the day she was terminated, but claims that was due to a miscommunication regarding her schedule.) The employees filed charges with the local NLRB office, alleging that they were terminated in retaliation for the petition. The Minneapolis office of the NLRB believes that the terminations were unlawful, and if the case does not settle, it will be tried before an NLRB Administrative Law Judge. If the Judge agrees that the employer violated the NLRA, the employees could be reinstated to their jobs, with backpay.
This case is a good reminder that employees do not need a union to be protected under the NLRA. Even in a non-union setting, employers cannot retaliate against their employees for engaging in concerted and protected activities that are aimed at improving their working conditions.