Recently, The Huffington Post reported that food service workers in the Pentagon filed a complaint against their private-sector employer. They say that they were illegally retaliated against in response to asserting their right to protest for better working conditions.
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Non-union food service workers walked off of their jobs to protest low pay and poor working conditions. One worker claims he has made exactly $9 per hour for the last eight years; he has never once received a raise. Workers also complained that they have no sick days; if they get sick they either work or go without pay. They claim no insurance or health care benefits and no vacation days.
The Huffington Post reports that many of the private sector employers responded by telling workers either to not come back for a day, a week, or ever: they were fired. At least one was called that morning and told if he didn’t show up for work on the day of the strike, not to bother ever showing up again.
Some workers were threatened with the loss of their only job benefit, a free meal. Others were subjected to interrogation and threatened with some sort of legal action if they participated in the strike.
National Labor Relations Act
The employees are alleging that their rights under Sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) have been violated. In addition to protecting workers’ rights to unionize, Section 7 also protects workers who “engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” Protesting for better working conditions is considered engaging in activities for the purpose of mutual aid and protection.
Section 8 restricts employers from interfering, restraining, or coercing employees to hinder them from exercising their rights under Section 7. In other words, threatening, suspending, and firing employees for participating in the protest is illegal.
Without organized protests that call attention to the plight of low paid, expendable workers, their situation will likely not improve. The NLRA offers some degree of protection against employer retaliation. We must wait and see how this gets resolved.
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