The National Labor Relations Board, in response to complaints prompted by an article in The Progressive, has found that the home improvement giant Menards committed multiple violations of federal labor law.
“The employer has maintained unlawful and overly broad written agreements with managers and supervisors,” as well as “unlawful and overly broad provisions in its employee handbook,” the NLRB determined, according to a notice emailed on March 28 to Seth Goldstein, senior business representative of the Office and Employees International Union, Local 153, based in New York City. The notice was sent by Jessica Gibson, a Milwaukee-based NLRB field examiner.
Goldstein filed numerous complaints against Menards after reading The Progressive’s December 8 article on how the company’s written agreement with management staff included a specific threat to slash their pay if the work areas they supervise opt to unionize. Prior news accounts had made reference to this threat, but The Progressive article included the actual clause from an agreement signed in 2015, provided to the magazine by a management employee.
The NLRB found merit to five of Goldstein’s eight complaints. It determined that the company’s written pledge to cut managers’ pay by 60 percent in the event of a successful union operation was a violation, but took no action, as the company has already removed this language from the agreements.
Gibson, in an earlier email to Goldstein, said Menards “had every managerial employee subject to that provision sign a document confirming that change to the employment agreement, along with some other changes.”
Gibson’s March 28 email to Goldstein said the NLRB also agreed that Menards violated labor law in sections of its agreements with employees that deal with the use of confidential information, and by including language that prohibits merit pay increases to employees who engage in “protected concerted and/or union activities.”
Menards will be directed to revise and reissue its employee handbook to address these concerns, Gibson’s email said.
Finally, the NLRB agreed Menards was violating labor law by requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements that preclude them from engaging in concerted activities, including class actions.
“It’s a major victory, because the board is going to issue perhaps a national finding against Menards,” Goldstein said. “It’s wide-ranging.” He says the arbitration rule finding is especially important, as it could require the rewriting of employments agreements with all of its 45,000 employees. The company, according to its website, operates more than 280 stores in fourteen states.
Two of Goldstein’s complaints were found to have merit only in part, and three were rejected outright, including his claim that Menards has actually refused to provide merit pay determinations to employees who engaged in protected activities.
Company owner John Menard is a significant contributor to Republican candidates and, according to a report last year by journalist Michael Isikoff, secretly funneled more than $1.5 million to a political advocacy group working to support Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Goldstein finds it “ironic” that Menard, a proponent of freedom for government regulation, would be “engaging in this type of unlawful conduct.”
“If he wants the government to respect his rights,” Goldstein said, “he has to respect the rights of employees to speak out on their conditions of employment.”
A spokeswoman for Menards, asked whether the company planned to comply with the requested changes or contest them, responded: "We are unable to comment on pending litigation."
Bill Lueders is associate editor of The Progressive.