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Trump’s NLRB: No Union Stickers at Work

The board has made an important decision giving employers more rights

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jan 20, 2020

At the end of December, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued several rulings to weaken workers' voices on the job. In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 368 NLRB No. 146, the board made a ruling regarding an employer's ability to limit union buttons on the job.

At Wal-Mart, the company created a policy saying that employees can only wear “small, non-distracting” union insignia in the workplace. The Organization United for Respect at Walmart (Our Walmart) challenged the rule. Since it is illegal for an employer to completely ban union insignia they may have hoped that the board would rule that any restriction was a violation of employees first amendment rights.


This did not happen though as the NLRB instead ruled in favor of the company saying that their policy limiting the size of union buttons to no larger than the size of the employee's name badge was legal and in compliance with NLRB rules. The decision continues the NLRB’s push to limit the effectiveness of union buttons on the job.

The decision in the case overrules a long-standing precedent that was developed in the Republic case. Under Republic, the board has ruled that any limitation from an employer was unlawful unless there was a special circumstance. The reasons for a special circumstance were pretty narrowly defined. However in a 2017 decision, Boeing, the board ruled that employer handbooks limiting union insignia were legal. The Wal-Mart case now furthers the Boeing decision.

In Democrat Lauren McFerran's dissent she said “Today, the majority brushes aside Republic Aviation and its progeny and applies the less demanding standard from its deeply flawed decision in Boeing Co. to find that the Respondent’s restriction of its employees’ Section 7 right to wear union insignia was lawful. I fear that today’s decision signals the majority’s intention to import the Boeing framework—which is less protective of Section 7 rights—into other well-settled areas of Board law that currently require their own subject-matter specific analyses. That surely would not be a welcome development for workers.”


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