We've been covering the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), an important piece of legislation for protecting and expanding the rights of working people. As the debate continues, it's important to remember that the proposed law isn't just some abstract concept for pundits to debate. It's about the rights of real people in real situations that are challenging or dangerous. Here are six stories that put real faces on the issues the WAGE Act seeks to remedy.
1. T-Mobile: Joshua Coleman worked at a T-Mobile call center, where he received many awards for his work and even was selected to train newly hired workers. Once Coleman became involved in TU—a global union for T-Mobile workers—management started to retaliate. A corporate vice president showed up at his workplace while Coleman was wearing a union T-shirt, and a trip he won as a prize for being a top performer was revoked. He was suspended for “call quality”—a very subjective measure—despite having strong performance metrics. Coleman eventually was fired for calling back customers too many times, a rule a human resources manager later admitted (under oath) the company invented for this one worker. T-Mobile settled the case by paying Coleman tens of thousands of dollars and posting a notice, but his co-workers saw what happens when you stand up and speak out. T-Mobile continues to violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), including by imposing a gag order on workers who brought sexual harassment complaints to management’s attention. The WAGE Act’s enhanced remedies would serve to deter companies determined to intimidate workers from exercising their right to organize.
2. Stabilus Inc.: In February 2004, the UAW began assisting workers seeking to organize at the Stabilus facility in Gastonia, N.C. In late May 2004, after an anti-union campaign in which Stabilus committed a host of unfair labor practices, UAW lost the election by two votes. It filed objections seeking a new election. The next month, while the objections were pending, Stabilus suspended and then discharged Dennis McSwain, a leading union activist. The National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB’s) regional director in Winston-Salem, N.C., subsequently issued a complaint against Stabilus alleging that it engaged in a variety of pre- and post-election conduct that violated the NLRA, including the suspension and discharge of McSwain, but the complaint got bogged down in the lengthy appeals process. In January 2012—more than seven years after McSwain was discharged—Stabilus finally agreed to remedy the unfair labor practices and consented to a new election. Unfortunately, because of years of delay at the board, workers had given up hope in the election process, and the UAW was forced to withdraw its petition. The WAGE Act would require the NLRB seek injunctive relief in cases like this to provide quicker resolutions for the workers.
3. Walmart: Walmart is infamous for doing whatever is necessary to deny its workers the opportunity to stand together for better wages and improved working conditions. Over the years, the NLRB’s general counsel repeatedly has issued complaints against Walmart over alleged violations of the NLRA—and this has not stopped thousands of Walmart workers from standing up over the past few years to demand more of the company. The workers at Walmart’s Pico Rivera, Calif., store were some of the most active in this campaign. Then suddenly, on April 13, 2015, Walmart announced it was closing five stores due to “plumbing issues” and laying off thousands of workers, including more than 500 employed at the Pico Rivera store. The enhanced remedies and expanded injunctive relief in the WAGE Act are necessary to ensure companies comply with the law and to reduce the economic harm suffered by workers who are retaliated against.
4. Century Car Wash: During a 2012 union organizing campaign in Los Angeles, two employees were fired by Century Car Wash when they refused to sign a document waiving their right to bring claims for unpaid wages. The next day, the workers filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB and requested that the board seek injunctive relief in court to put them back to work so organizing could continue. The NLRB would not agree to seek injunctive relief and did not issue a final complaint against the company until more than a year and a half later. Today, three-and-a-half years after the charges were filed, the workers and their union still await a final determination from the board on what back pay they are owed by the employer.
5. Mezonos Maven Bakery Inc.: Mezonos Maven Bakery, which operates a wholesale bread manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, N.Y., hired allegedly undocumented workers to operate its plant and did not complete federally required I-9 employment verification forms. Mezonos required employees to work 65 to 75 hours per week without paying them overtime. When a group of employees complained to Mezonos about unfair treatment at the workplace, Mezonos fired several workers, leading to the filing of an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. Mezonos did not contest that it violated the NLRA by firing the workers but argued it was not required to pay the workers any back pay because they allegedly were undocumented. Although the NLRB noted that Mezonos violated federal immigration law by not completing I-9 forms, the board nevertheless concluded it was prohibited from awarding any back pay by the Supreme Court’s Hoffman Plastic Compounds decision. The WAGE Act would correct this injustice and create a disincentive to employers hiring and then exploiting undocumented workers by making unlawfully fired employees eligible for back pay under the NLRA regardless of their immigration status.
6. Squeaky Clean Car Wash: All Jay Ltd., operates the Squeaky Clean Car Wash in Santa Fe, N.M. In 2012, several employees of the car wash complained to its owner about being insulted and humiliated in front of customers, being required to work off the clock and not being provided goggles or gloves despite working with toxic chemicals. In response, the owner fired six workers. The fired workers, with the assistance of Somos Un Pueblo Unido (“We Are A United Community”), a statewide worker and immigrant rights group with a workers’ center, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. The NLRB reached a settlement with the car wash in which the employer agreed to reinstate the workers with back pay. Today, the workers are back at work and have seen improvements to workplace conditions as a result of their advocacy. The WAGE Act’s strengthened penalties for violations of the NLRA would ensure employers think twice before firing workers who exercise their protected right to come together to seek to improve their workplace.