Photo by Charlie Kay
The home improvement giant Menards is apparently removing language from its employment agreement with managers that threatens to slash their pay should the work areas they supervise opt to unionize. The change comes following a report by The Progressive on the agreement provision, which drew national attention, and the filing of a formal complaint against the company.
“I checked and our current 2016 contracts do not include such a clause,” stated Menard’s spokesman Jeff Abbott in a terse email, repeating a comment he made to the news outlet Bloomberg BNA, which reported on the issue.
A December 8 article in The Progressive reproduced the section called “Union Activity” from a 2015 management agreement. It states: “The Manager’s income shall be automatically reduced by sixty percent (60%) of what it would have been if a union of any type is recognized within your particular operation during the term of this Agreement. If a union wins an election during this time, your income will automatically be reduced by sixty percent (60%).”
The article quoted a legal expert who said the provision may make Menards vulnerable to a complaint alleging violations of the National Labor Relations Act, which states that an employer may not “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” in the exercise of their rights to form a union.
“You can interfere with employees by threatening a third party,” said the expert, Carin Clauss, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who served as U.S. Solicitor of Labor from 1977 to 1981.
Seth Goldstein, business representative of the Office and Employees International Union, Local 153, based in New York City, filed a complaint against Menards with the NLRB, charging that this provision stating, “The Employer maintains an unlawful and overbroad written employment agreement that interferes with non-union employees’ right to engage in concerted activities protected under the Act.”
On December 14, Goldstein filed an amended complaint, alleging additional violations of the law stemming from provisions in the company’s employee handbook that he said “are overbroad and interfere with, restrain, and coerce in the exercise” of rights protected under the act. These include workplace rules against fraternization and the distribution of literature. The handbook proclaims: "Menards is non-union."
Goldstein, in an interview, said he’s “not surprised, now that sunshine has been put on this, that [Menard’s has] backpedaled." But he added that the NLRB needs to make sure that the provision has indeed been removed. “I don’t really trust this company.”
And while removing this language would end the violation going forward, Goldstein said it is apparently still in effect now: “As we speak, these contracts are still there for 2015, so the unlawful contact is still continuing.” He hopes to still press forward with his additional complaints.
Bill Lueders is associate editor of The Progressive Magazine