National Labor Relations Board: Wal-Mart violated employee rights

A shopper loads bags into a car in the parking lot of the Walmart Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, in Lithonia, Ga., where the day before a shoplifting suspect died after a confrontation with store employees. DeKalb County police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said Monday the man had not been identified and police hadn't decided whether to file any charges in the Sunday incident. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A shopper loads bags into a car in the parking lot of the Walmart Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, in Lithonia, Ga., where the day before a shoplifting suspect died after a confrontation with store employees. DeKalb County police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said Monday the man had not been identified and police hadn't decided whether to file any charges in the Sunday incident. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

As retailers prepare for Black Thursday and Friday next week, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, received a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it violated the rights of its employees during protests and strikes that stemmed from the 2012 Christmas holiday shopping season.

The NLRB found merit in three alleged violations and no merit in two.

The federal agency found that Wal-Mart unlawfully threatened employees on television last year if they engaged in strikes and protests on November 22, 2012. The NLRB found that the retailer’s stores in 13 states including California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas unlawfully threatened, disciplined and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.  The ruling also said Walmart stores in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas unlawfully threatened, surveilled, disciplined, and/or terminated employees’ other protected activities.

However, the agency ruled that Wal-Mart stores in Illinois and Texas did not interfere with the employees right to strike. It also stated that stores in California and Washington did not unlawfully change work schedules or retaliate against employees for participating in protests.

John Logan, professor of labor and employee studies at San Francisco State University, said the NLRB ruling is hugely important.  “It really basically said that there is very compelling evidence that Wal-Mart had significant violations of the law. It’s really the scope of the ruling.”

At least 100 Wal-Mart employees were directly affected.

For Wal-Mart employees, the ruling gives them some assurance that the NLRB will take action if Wal-Mart engages in unlawful activity. However, Logan warned the penalties are notoriously weak.  “The penalties do no act as enough of a deterrent to stop behavior in the future,” Logan said.

He said the protests and strikes have put a spotlight on Wal-Mart. If Walmart settles with the NLRB, terminated employees may be reinstated and receive back pay. Wal-Mart may also be required to post a notice stating they will not engage in this unlawful behavior again.

Wal-Mart provided theGrio with this statement:

“We disagree with this position by the Division of Advice. This is just a procedural step and we will pursue our options to defend the company because we believe our actions were legal and justified.”

“The fact is, we provide good jobs and unparalleled opportunities for our associates. This is our busiest time of the year and we’re focused on serving our customers and helping them have a great holiday season.”

“It’s important to note that there has not been one decision in the last 5 years by the NLRB or by a court finding that Wal-Mart violated the National Labor Relations Act.   That is because we take our obligations under the Act very seriously and we train our managers accordingly.”

Shartia Brantley is a producer and on-air reporter at CNBC. Follow Shartia on Twitter at @shartiabrantley