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The National Labor Relations Board wants a federal judge Monday to direct the operators of the downtown Little Rock McDonald's restaurant to "cease and desist from committing unfair labor practices" against employees who have supported unionizing efforts.

M. Kathleen McKinney -- director of the board's Region 15, which covers Arkansas -- also wants Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Miller to order the franchisee, The Retzer Group Inc., to rehire Kevin "Jay" Harris, a maintenance employee who the board said was fired illegally in December for leading union organizing efforts at the restaurant last year.

On June 19, McKinney filed a petition for an injunction against the franchisee -- which owns several McDonald's restaurants, including the one at 701 S. Broadway -- in response to several substantiated complaints she said the board received from the Mid-South Workers Organizing Committee. The petition alleges that Harris was "targeted and discharged for his zealous advocacy in support of an effort ... to improve wages and working conditions for fast food workers and secure their right to unionize, and in retaliation for his union and protected concerted activities."

The case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who recused, citing senior status. The case was then transferred to Miller, who June 24 imposed a temporary injunction that ends Monday, unless testimony he hears that day prompts him to extend it.

The injunction prohibits "conduct calculated to improperly deter employee interest in the Union." Specifically, it prohibits the restaurant from threatening to fire workers for discussing the union, instructing employees not to speak to Harris or any other employee in retaliation for protected activity, disciplining or otherwise discriminating against employees because of their union or other protected activity, and interfering with employees in exercising their rights under federal law.

Attorney Spencer Robinson of Pine Bluff -- who represents Michael Retzer Jr., owner of The Retzer Group -- asserted Tuesday in a response to the Mid-South Workers Organizing Committee's motion to participate in the case that it doesn't qualify as a labor union or a local branch of the Service Employees International Union. Miller denied the committee's motion, saying the labor board is "perfectly capable" of representing Mid-South's interests.

The board said Mid-South began to organize McDonald's employees and other fast-food workers in Little Rock in July 2014 to improve wages and working conditions for local workers in the "Fight for $15." It alleges that "once the union gained a foothold at the Broadway restaurant, [Retzer] quickly and harshly responded by threatening its employees with termination if they discussed the union and/or organizing and implemented a rule prohibiting employees from taking breaks in the parking lot ... to quell employee interest and support for the union."

The Retzer Group hasn't filed a response to the petition, although Robinson asked that the temporary order be set aside. Miller refused, saying it is only temporary until he can hear testimony.

The hearing is 10:30 a.m. Monday in Little Rock federal court.

Metro on 07/04/2015

Print Headline: McDonald's labor hearing set

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