National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge Arthur Amchan determined this week that a Detroit-area Burger King franchisee violated the National Labor Relations Act by barring off-duty employees from its premises. The franchisee also violated the Act by prohibiting union solicitations on its property.
The Burger King franchisee, known as EYM King of Michigan LLC, runs 22 separate Burger Kings in and around Detroit. EYM’s employee handbook rules were struck down by Judge Amchan because they prohibited employees from being on company premises unless they were either 1) eating or 2) working.
EYM contended that many of its restaurants operate in ”high-crime” areas, so the rules were designed to ensure security. Judge Amchan summarily dismissed EYM’s explanation.
“To give credence to such an explanation would effectively deprive millions of the lowest-paid workers in the United States of the ability to assert their Section 7 rights. As I pointed out numerous times at trial, there is no material difference between security concerns in Detroit and those in every inner city in this country,” the decision said.
The decision also determined the franchisee violated the Act by issuing unlawful warnings and suspensions to employees, as well as by threatening to discharge an employee for discussing strike actions on the job.
Judge Amchan’s ruling comes at a critical time for the “Fight for Fifteen” campaign, which is seeking to institute a living wage for fast-food employees. The campaign, backed by the Service Employees International Union, has been gaining steam and notoriety since its beginnings more than a year ago. Workers will likely be emboldened by the decision, so fast food franchises should probably expect more unfair labor practice charges (and organizing activity) in the coming weeks and months.
The major take-away from this decision is that fast-food franchises should carefully review their employee handbooks, rules, and policies to ensure they comply with the National Labor Relations Act. With the Board’s General Counsel telegraphing his intention to go after fast-food chains, a small violation of the Act could bring big consequences.