The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint accusing Albertson’s Inc., the nation’s fourth-largest food and drug retailer, of unfair labor practices in its dispute with union workers over uncompensated overtime.
The complaint, issued by Acting Regional Director Terry Jensen, claimed the lawsuit Albertson’s filed last fall was an improper attempt to force union identification of employees allegedly forced to work “off the clock” and require those workers to settle their claims directly with the company rather than through the union.
The Idaho-based company, which operates more than 800 stores in 20 primarily Western and Southern states, has two weeks to respond to the complaint.
But spokesman Michael Read said on Wednesday that the complaint was nothing more than that - “a complaint that can be filed at any time and does not constitute any finding at all.”
He pointed out that legal arguments over the legitimacy of some of the points cited by Jensen are under way as part of the Albertson’s lawsuit gainst the union.
“It’s also our feeling that the NLRB is acting without full knowledge on some of these things,” Read said.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in Boise ruled this spring that employees need not seek arbitration before a suit is filed, but he also said Albertson’s could proceed with its breach-of-contract and contract interference complaints against the union.
Jensen set Dec. 1 for a hearing at the Seattle regional headquarters on the allegations outlined in the 41-page NLRB complaint filed on Monday.
Joe Peterson of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union on Wednesday called the decision by the board’s northwestern region “a complete rejection of Albertson’s position that it can’t be sued by employees whom they cheated.”
Class-action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Albertson employees in all 20 states, asking the courts to compensate them for past off-the-clock work and to prohibit the company from requiring uncompensated overtime in the future.
Read has in the past contended the suits were part of an orchestrated campaign against Albertson’s that has never been backed up by specific claims.
And at the annual stockholders meeting in Boise six weeks ago, Chief Executive Officer Gary Michael flatly denied that the company attempts to get unpaid work out of employees.
“Albertson’s has a longstanding policy against forcing employees to work off the clock,” he declared. “We will vigorously defend ourselves against those lawsuits. There’s absolutely no effort to exploit our employees.”
But Peterson said the union, through a survey it began nearly 18 months ago, has received complaints from over 5,000 employees about being denied payment for overtime and being discouraged from filing workers’ compensation claims for injuries on the job.