Don Bauder 3:30 p.m., Jan. 21
Fresh & Easy Busted for Union Busting
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Inc., the U.S. arm of British grocery giant Tesco, itself the second most-profitable worldwide retailer behind Wal-Mart, has lost in a petition for review of a disciplinary order handed down by the National Labor Relations Board.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. has upheld the ruling of the Labor Relations Board pertaining to actions taken against an employee at a store in the San Diego suburb of Spring Valley. The Board held that Fresh & Easy was guilty of three separate violations of labor law against an employee during a union organizing drive at the store in 2008.
Store management twice warned a pro-union employee that she was not allowed to discuss unionization with other employees on the work floor, despite her protestation that “if employees can talk about the San Diego Chargers' games or about their kids, then they can talk about the Union.” This constituted an unlawful restriction on the employee by barring her from talking to her coworkers about organizing.
A supervisor then told the employee, who’d received a warning during work, that “if I had a manager that didn't like me, I would take my check and walk out.” He further advised her twice that if she were to quit, she would likely be eligible for unemployment benefits, also an unlawful act.
Third, supervisors imposed a disciplinary improvement plan and ordered the worker not to disclose it or discuss its terms with her coworkers. This was also ruled by the Board to be an illegal denial of her right to discuss working conditions with her colleagues.
“We conclude that the Board’s decision that Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Inc. unlawfully encouraged an employee to quit in response to protected activity and promulgated two unlawful oral rules, one prohibiting an employee from discussing disciplinary matters during working hours and the other prohibiting employees from discussing union matters during working hours, is supported by substantial evidence and is not arbitrary,” reads a portion of the court’s final ruling, which denied the appeal by Fresh & Easy.
Despite parent Tesco’s overall profitability, the Fresh & Easy move into the United States’ West Coast market coincided with the global economic downturn and has yet to bear fruit. The company is hoping to show a profit from its U.S. operations for the first time in 2012 or 2013.