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NLRB Disarray Undermines Panera Workers' Fight for Union Representation

NLRB Disarray Undermines Panera Workers' Fight for Union Representation
This post originally appeared at the BCTGM website.

This is how hope turns into despair. More than a year since they voted to form a union, Panera workers in Michigan are still waiting. The franchisee that owns the Panera Bread stores in the region refused to recognize the BCTGM as the official representative of the bakers and refused to meet to bargain a first contract. 

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Panera broke the law by refusing to bargain, and ordered the company to bargain with the bakers.  But the company appealed that ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court, which has put the case on hold because of another ruling about President Obama’s three recess appointments to the NLRB.  So the workers are still waiting for justice.

President Obama has made nominations of five people to the NLRB.  The five nominees—three Democrats and two Republicans — must be confirmed by the full Senate and overcome a potential Republican filibuster before August when the term of one of the current NLRB members ends and the board will be without a quorum and unable to function.

The uncertainty of the NLRB adds to the difficulties of the Panera workers; the company’s appeal of the NLRB’s ruling has thrown the case into limbo – along with at least 200 other cases – after the D.C. Circuit Court ruling. 

The Noel Canning decision has seriously undermined enforcement of the law, creating chaos and uncertainty for workers who have turned to the NLRB for protection of their rights. Employers are using the decision to challenge the NLRB's rulings, like that of the Panera workers, and the D.C. Circuit is putting these cases on hold, leaving workers without remedies when they are illegally fired for union activity or when their employer refuses to bargain with their representative.

One of the original Panera bakers, Kyle Schilling, has been fired by the company for his union activity, with little hope of retribution because of the radical decision by the D.C. court. 

The Panera bakers trying to join the BCTGM come from six Panera Bread franchises in Michigan: Kalamazoo, Portage, Battle Creek, Jackson and St. Joseph. They were to first Panera workers in the U.S. to unionize.  The bakers continue to struggle to be part of the middle-class, making less than $25,000 a year.

Other issues here: lack of affordable healthcare, no retirement, and lack of dignity and respect.

A rally for justice will be held outside a Panera Café in Kalamazoo on Friday, June 21. 

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