Black Friday protests

The National Labor Relations Board said earlier this month that union organizers can pay Black Friday protesters with a $50 gift card. Above, protesters at a Paramount, Calif., Walmart on last year's Black Friday. (Nick Ut/Associated Press / November 23, 2012)

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As organizers prepare for what they bill as the largest Black Friday protests to date, the National Labor Relations Board recently said that the practice of paying Wal-Mart strikers last year with $50 gift cards was legal. 

The decision came as thousands are expected to turn out at about 1,500 Wal-Mart stores nationwide on Black Friday. The protesters are demanding better pay for employees, full-time work and and an end to what they say is retaliation against workers who speak out about working conditions.

In Southern California, two Wal-Mart stores, one in Ontario and the other in the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw area, will be the sites of protests that kick off Friday morning. 

Our Wal-Mart, the group organizing the protests, is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The labor group had previously filed a complaint with the NLRB alleging Wal-Mart had illegally retaliated against workers.

The NLRB found, in a decision issued Nov. 15, that the retailer unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes on Black Friday, unlawfully disciplined workers who did engage in those strikes and unlawfully treated employees in other stores in anticipation of them participating in strikes or other labor activities.

Wal-Mart had also complained to the NLRB that the union had made illegal threats and coercive statements in the presence of employees. They also complained that paying Wal-Mart associates at stores in Texas and Oklahoma with $50 gift cards was coercive. 

The NLRB disagreed. In an advice memorandum, it dismissed the alleged threats as too ambiguous, the NLRB said. 

"Further, the Union’s offer of a $50 gift card for employees who participate in the 2012 Black Friday job action was to a strike fund, and, thus, did not constitute unlawful restraint or coercion of employees," the NLRB general counsel wrote. 

A spokeswoman for the group organizing the Southern California protests said strikers are not being paid with gift cards. 

Sum of Us, an advocacy nonprofit, is raising money for the gift cards. In a solicitation for donations, the group said the gift cards help pay for lost wages when Wal-Mart associates go on strike.  

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