A federal judge on Monday extended a temporary injunction requiring the owner of two McDonald's restaurants, one in Little Rock and the other in North Little Rock, to comply with federal labor laws until he can hear testimony about allegations brought by the National Labor Relations Board.
"I'm not necessarily saying The Retzer Group violated the law," Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Miller told attorneys, acknowledging the franchisee's complaint that a temporary injunction he granted June 24 at the board's request, before the franchisee could respond to the allegations, gave employees the impression the law had already been deemed violated.
The injunction requires the two restaurants to post notices alerting employees about their rights to discuss unionization efforts without retaliation. The signs have been up at the McDonald's restaurants at 701 Broadway in Little Rock and 600 E. Broadway in North Little Rock since the temporary order was granted. But Monday, after attorneys for the labor board told Miller that they weren't prepared to present testimony from witnesses, franchise owner Michael Retzer asked that the restaurants be allowed to take down the signs.
Noting that the signs merely state the law, Miller said that unless he decides otherwise after viewing a videotape introduced by the defendants and reviewing attorneys' arguments, there is no need to drop the posting requirement.
"I'm essentially asking everybody to follow the law," he said. "There's nothing wrong with telling people to comply with the law."
The board filed a petition June 19 alleging that an investigation prompted by several complaints from the Mid-South Workers Organizing Committee provided "strong cause to believe" that Retzer retaliated against and fired a maintenance employee, Kevin "Jay" Harris, for exercising his right to advocate for better wages and working conditions for fast-food workers during local workers' "Fight for $15" demonstrations last year.
The petition asks that, at least until the board can complete its investigation, the judge order Harris' reinstatement and direct the franchisee to stop threatening employees for discussing union organizing, instructing employees not to speak to Harris, offering raises and promotions to discourage union activity, monitoring employees' union activity, disciplining employees for union activity, or otherwise interfering with their rights.
The petition also asks that Miller order the franchisee to rescind a retaliatory rule prohibiting employees from remaining in parking lots during breaks and require the restaurants to hold mandatory meetings during regular business hours to read the court's order aloud to employees in English and Spanish.
Miller's temporary injunction specifically forbids Retzer from threatening to fire employees for discussing union organizing; from instructing employees not to speak to Harris or others in retaliation for union activity; from suspending, disciplining or otherwise discriminating against employees in retaliation for union activity; and from interfering with, or restraining or coercing, employees in the exercise of their rights under Chapter 29, Section 157 of the U.S. Code.
Attorneys for the labor board wanted to introduce affidavits supporting their request that the temporary injunction be kept in place, but Miller said he couldn't make such a ruling without hearing testimony.
Retzer, who owns 47 McDonald's franchises in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, said after the hearing that Harris wasn't fired for rallying workers to unionize, but for going into the North Little Rock restaurant with a bullhorn and "disrupting business," as well as using profanity and a "laundry list" of other activities.
Harris was fired Dec. 15, after he and others demonstrated in and around the two McDonald's locations Sept. 4 and Dec. 4.
Attorney Spencer Robinson of Pine Bluff, who represents Retzer, told the judge that the video would show how disruptive Harris, an employee at the Little Rock location, was to business at the North Little Rock location Dec. 4, when he walked in with about 20 other nonemployees at a busy hour -- around 9 a.m. -- and used a bullhorn to ask employees to join him in organizing a union, then refused to leave at the manager's request.
Robinson said an administrative law judge will decide later this month, in a separate case, whether Harris was legally terminated. If the termination was legal, he said, the "collateral issues" concerning the union don't matter.
Attorney Jacqueline Rau, representing the labor board, responded that the protest lasted about two minutes, as the video will show. She said it won't show customers leaving during the protest and noted that there were no reports of damage, despite the manager summoning the police.
Rau referred to actions taken by the franchisee as "relentless efforts to trample workers' rights," beginning with assigning Harris to more rigorous jobs, such as making him unload supplies from a truck by himself when it is usually a two-person job, to justify firing him later when he couldn't complete the tasks on time.
She said Retzer's actions have had a "chilling response" on employees' enthusiasm and interest in unionizing, although a "small corps" of employees are still interested. She said the law gives employees the right to decide whether or not they want to be part of a union.
"The issue at stake is whether employees will feel free to exercise their statutory rights," she said, telling the judge that the board believes "this is an extraordinary case" in which immediate relief is necessary.
Robinson said counter receipts from the North Little Rock restaurant from Dec. 1-14 show "a significant decrease in sales at the North Little Rock store on the day this occurred, compared to the prior year."
He said he has collected affidavits from several employees denying that they were threatened, denied or offered raises or promotions, or otherwise retaliated against or coerced in response to their positions on unionizing. He said the "surveillance" mentioned by the labor board consisted of two people taking pictures of the protests with their cellphones, and said, "Mr. Harris was not targeted for anything."
Metro on 07/07/2015
Print Headline: McDonald's union order extended