In NLRB Win Against Target, Workers Lose
By: Bruce W. Both,
President, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1500
In June 2011, a union election was held at Target in Valley Stream, Long Island N.Y. Finding that Target’s pre-election conduct violated the law, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered a new election at the store. Weeks later another election was held, this time in a fair, professional manner, without intimidation, threats to family members, anti-union videos; the workers overwhelmingly voted to unionize.
I wish it were that simple.
That second election never happened, and now, won’t happen after the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 concluded that a re-election would be futile given Target’s exploitation of the systematic delays inherent in NLRB procedures that companies like Target use to deter workers from banding together and demanding more from their billion dollar employers.
In the weeks preceding the 2011 union election at the Valley Stream Target, workers were threatened, intimidated and repeatedly interrogated on unions. They were forced to sit in rooms for hours, watching anti-union videos in captive audience meetings and presentations from top paid union-cleansing attorneys on how bad forming a union really is for you and your family. Target Corp. was found guilty of all of this, and a new union election was ordered at Valley Stream. So why has it taken three years for a new election to be scheduled?
Through the election process (three years ago), Target did whatever it took to keep its employees from unionizing, including handing out notices that threatened to close the store “if the union got in” to all 275 employees. Days after the election, NLRB charges piled up against Target. Two months later in August 2011, an NLRB Regional Director found Target violated its workers’ rights and repeatedly threatened employees. Throughout the next few months, the NLRB added more charges to its case against Target, and finally announced an ALJ would hear the case on February 1, 2012. Then the waiting game began.
Cleansing and Closing the Store
While Target waited for its day in court it was pro-active. Anticipating a re-election order, it decided to cleanse its store of pro-union employees. In August 2011, Target fired one of the leading and outspoken pro-union employees, Tashawna Greene, from her $8-an-hour job. By January 2012, Target had fired or transferred over 25% of the employees at Valley Stream out of the store.
Target was then in an interesting place; it had never been in a battle with a labor union, and billed itself to the public as “the better Walmart”. Target liked this image, so with the NLRB hearing looming, and even though it had defeated the workers’ first attempt at unionizing, it announced it would close its doors for eight months in order to “remodel” the store.
What was unusual about the remodel was: a) In over 900 store re-models throughout the United States, Target had only closed a store once (Portland, Oregon) and that was just for a few weeks. In contrast, in Valley Stream, a store full of union supporters and men and women who wanted change at their workplace, Target closed its store for a seven month re-model, even though it had no building permits to perform the reconstruction; b) In the closing, Target was very specific in choosing who to offer transfers to and who to “buyout” from employment. Only employees who were in “good standing with the company” were offered transfers (ie, employees who were “No” votes), while employees who voted “Yes” were offered “buyouts”. The buyouts came with a catch. Those employees who took the buyout signed an agreement not to speak to any media outlets about the failed 2011 union campaign, and not to disclose any information regarding Target.
NLRB Decision 23 months later
A decision from the ALJ was expected to be made by June 2012. The Valley Stream Target store closed on April 28, 2012 and didn’t plan on re-opening until November 2012. Employees filed new NLRB charges and fought the store’s anticipated closure as illegal retaliation for supporting the union. The employees were now being punished for exercising their federal rights. UFCW International President Joe Hansen observed, “Sitting back and allowing Target to operate with such indifference for their employees will further embolden companies like Target and Wal-Mart, who seek to squash worker rights in the pursuit of unfettered control of our economy." The store closure went on as planned, and workers were left without jobs.
In May 2012, one year after the union filed for an election, the ALJ found Target guilty of violating numerous federal labor laws, and the union vote was overturned.
Target would appeal to the NLRB in Washington. At the same time, it would go on to accept an award by Episphere for “World’s Most Ethical Companies to Work For”.
Time continued to tick away, and the 2011 campaign to bring change at Target seemed like an eternity ago for the brave men and women who lost their jobs. A year later, in May 2013, the NLRB affirmed the decision and ordered a new union election at Target in Valley Stream. The NLRB also ordered Target to modify all existing and future employee handbooks throughout the Country and remove all wording that the NLRB found violated federal labor law.
This ruling applied to over 1,700 Target stores and 250,000 employees in the United States Then, Target further delayed the second election yet again by appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Victory, right? Not for the workers.
Target prepared for the adverse decision and took full advantage of the time delay between appeals. In May 2013, when for a second time a new election was ordered in May 2013, only a handful of employees who voted in the 2011 election were still working at the Valley Stream store. The store had been cleansed of pro-union employees either by firings, buyouts or transfers to distant stores or replacement with handpicked employees who had nothing to do with a prior union election. Target had anticipated losing its appeals; it just bought more time to rid itself of union employees, and poison the democratic process any election in our nation is guaranteed.
By closing the store, Target deliberately intimidated all current and future employees from participating in any union activity.
When Target dropped its court appeal in December 2013, the NLRB gave a new election date for March of 2014, over three years after the original election, our union was placed in a no-win situation. The delays in the NLRB process gave us no chance to help workers at Target, and gave Target 40 months to prepare its store for a re-run election. After our organizers met with Target Valley Stream workers this winter, we found nearly all of them have had one-on-one meetings with management about the union. Employees were told that the “federal government is making us have a union election”. Target had stacked the deck since firing Tashawana Greene in August 2011 to ensure it won the second election. That is why we’re pulling our second election at Target in Valley Stream in protest of the delays inherent in the NLRB process and the lack of teeth the NLRB has to hold giant retailers like Target and Walmart accountable.
Target was found guilty of a laundry list of federal labor violations; it closed a store for seven months, offered workers buyouts and forced workers to sign a document pledging they wouldn’t release any details to the press. It was then awarded an award for being one of the most ethical companies to work for in the world.
We should expect more from our nation’s employers and stop worrying about paying less.
The deck is stacked against workers and organized labor. This isn’t a fair or democratic process; if it were, the brave workers from Valley Stream Target who decided to band together and demand more from our nation’s second largest employer, would all still be employed and protected by a union contract.