Pickle Placement Punishment for Pro-union Worker gets Burger Kings in Trouble

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By Laura Clawson, Daily Kos

A judge administered some hard slaps to a Burger King franchisee who illegally targeted workers for their activism. Managers for EYM King, which runs 22 Burger King restaurants in the Detroit area, broke the law blatantly at times, and at times tried to pretend it wasn’t illegally retaliating. On the blatant end:

One day last October, a manager told Frazier that “if he was talking about striking again, he’d soon be picking up his paycheck.”It’s against the law to punish a worker for discussing wages, working conditions or unionization with other colleagues — such talk is considered “protected concerted activity” under the law. Yet the company insisted to the judge that it was “plainly entitled” to forbid workers from discussing such matters during work.

“This assertion is simply incorrect,” the judge wrote.

The law is settled when it comes to concerted activity. Companies penalize workers for their activism all the time, of course, but they typically pretend they’re following the law, rather than going to a judge who knows about these things and claiming the law says something it plainly does not say. EYM King also followed the more traditional route of finding an incredibly minor thing a worker has done wrong and punishing them way out of proportion, making it obvious the punishment is really about the worker’s activism. In this case, the day after Claudette Wilson was reprimanded (illegally) for coming to the Burger King on her day off to talk to other workers about the organizing drive, she was sent home two hours early for not placing pickles on burgers in perfect squares.

It did not take the judge much to see through that. The question was not whether her pickles were perfect squares, he wrote. It was whether she would have been sent home for imperfect pickles if managers hadn’t been trying to punish her for protected concerted activity, and “Respondent has made no showing that it would have sent Wilson home in the absence of her protected activity.”

This kind of retaliation against worker activists happens all the time, and it’s why it’s so important that the United States enforces its labor laws. The deck is already stacked against workers’ efforts to join unions. It would be much, much worse if companies knew there would be literally no penalty for firing pro-union workers, as opposed to the ridiculously small penalties currently in place. But congressional Republicans have plans to make things much worse: Sens. Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander are pushing a bill to gridlock the National Labor Relations Board so that, if for instance EYM King appealed this case to the NLRB, Claudette Wilson and Romell Frazier would never get justice.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Kos.