With the economic downturn largely in America’s rearview mirror as job creation and employment continue to rise, there’s been a lot of talk about the quality of many of those new roles. Whether it’s fast food workers or retail employees, the most prominent new labor issue is not whether there are jobs to be found, but whether those jobs offer a living wage. Over the past several months, workers in minimum- and low-wage positions have made increasingly louder demands for higher pay and unionization rights through a string of walkouts and protests around the country. Perhaps a matter of serendipitous timing or the signal of a cultural shift, it seems that lawmakers and courts are giving life and validity to the movement, and employers should start taking notice.
Consider the situation at America’s biggest retailer, Walmart. For the third year in a row, Black Friday shoppers across the country were met by protests from workers and sympathizers demanding a base pay increase to $15 per hour and the right to form a union. Actually, the number of Walmart workers comprised only a small portion of the protesters, with the majority being members of other unions offering support. Whether the protesters actually represent the sentiment of all or even most Walmart workers largely depends on which side of the divide is offering an opinion, but an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently sided with employees who said they were unfairly disciplined by the company for their efforts to organize workers.