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It’s not just a long-rumored threat, it’s a promise put in writing.

The employment agreement for managers at Menards, the home-improvement giant, imposes a substantial cut in pay should the workers under their supervision form a union.

section of the employment agreement titled “Union Activity” sets forth: “The Manager’s income shall be automatically reduced by sixty percent (60%) of what it would have been if a union of any type is recognized within your particular operation during the term of this Agreement. If a union wins an election during this time, your income will automatically be reduced by sixty percent (60%).”

A copy of one such agreement signed in 2015 was obtained by The Progressive magazine. The clause calling on managers to be punished for union successes appears as Appendix J to the agreement. Newly hired managers are asked to initial every page. The agreement also specifies that managers “may be terminated at any time for any or no reason, with or without cause.”

The contract was provided by a management employee who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions. The employee said the agreement is required for all management staff, adding that the threat was effective: “The mere mention of the word ‘union’ is a workplace taboo.”

Jeff Abbott, a spokesman for Menards, asked that questions about the agreement be submitted in writing, only to issue a terse response: “Employment agreements are confidential. Thank you.”

Menards, founded and headquartered in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has more than 280 stores in fourteen states, according to its website. The company ranked 39th on Forbes’ 2015 list of “America’s Largest Private Companies,” with an estimated $8.7 billion in annual revenue and 42,000 employees.

Last March, investigative reporter Michael Isikoff reported that company owner John Menard Jr. secretly funneled more than $1.5 million to a political advocacy group working to support Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The article noted that Menards was subsequently awarded up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from the scandal-plagued Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which Walker then chaired.

John Menard’s antipathy to unions is well-known. In a 2007 article in Milwaukee Magazine, a former store manager said he was made to attend “a one-and-one-half-day seminar in Eau Claire about fighting unions.” The article also quoted an ex-manager in Iowa saying that company policy included a 60 percent pay cut for managers should a store become unionized.

A 2003 Forbes article stated that a provision to this effect was part of a “contract” between Menards and a former manager who sued the chain for age discrimination. Other publications have referred to the 60 percent pay cut as a “threat.” The document obtained by The Progressive shows this language is included in employment agreements with management-level employees.

“Shame on Menards,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, reacting to the employment agreement. “How are working people supposed to get ahead in this economy and work for a strong America when billionaires like John Menard are rigging the deck before working people even have a chance?”

Jessica Kahanek, a spokeswoman for the National Labor Relations Board, declined to comment on whether threatening managers with a pay cut if workers unionize constituted an unfair labor practice, saying “a case with a similar fact pattern could come before the Board at some time in the future.”

The National Labor Relations Act, to which Kahanek directed a reporter, makes it illegal to threaten “employees,” not managers, over union activity. But it would be illegal if a manager, in seeking to avoid a pay cut, employed threats or coercion against employees.

Carin Clauss, an emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who served as U.S. Solicitor of Labor from 1977 to 1981, believes the company might be vulnerable if a complaint were to be filed with the NLRB. The law, she notes, says an employer may not  “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” in the exercise of their rights to form a union and, in her opinion, “you can interfere with employees by threatening a third party.”

Commenting without knowing the identity of the company, Clauss called the pay-cut threat “an outrageous practice” that she hoped would draw a complaint. “If I were the general counsel for NLRB, I would hope someone would file a charge so the board could take a position,” she said.

Clauss also suggested an agreement that threatened managers with consequences if they “don’t do something to interfere with employees’ organizing rights” could be deemed contrary to public policy and therefore void and unenforceable.

Harris Freeman, an expert in labor law at Western New England University's School of Law, said that even if threatening to cut the pay of managers is not an actionable violation, it is arguably “a pernicious practice” that could exacerbate workplace tensions. “What this encourages,” he said, “is for supervisors to not in any way identify with employees’ shared concerns.”

 

Bill Lueders is Associate Editor for The Progressive magazine.

 

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Comments

I love how these left-wing hacks get up on their high horse and pretend the union cronies like Richard Trumka, who feed their fat, mustachioed mouths off the backs of their union "members"are so much better than a guy who built a company from the ground up and still works his ass off every day. Give me a break, Bill.
Am I missing something.... is not a manager an employee of the company... under the title "manager"? If you are a stocker, you are an employee... a teller is an employee... a supervisor is an employee... but a manager is something else? Do they receive payment for services rendered or are they paid in stock options and equity? Does that seem odd to anyone else? Seems like a slam dunk violation of the Law doesn't it?
There is no Menards I now of in NV. But if there were I would never shop there and possibly start my own picket line.
On the other hand it could be a way to make sure the employees are fairly satisfied with working conditions. If managers are making too many mistaken decisions that cause workers to seek union representation then a possible reduction in pay might cause them to pause before making certain decisions. 60% is a lot though. I would think 20 % would be enough.
Stop shopping at Men cards. They don't care about people!
Stop shopping at Men cards. They don't care about people!
Do the unions realize that the General managers already make around 100K without the union? Seems like good money to me, but hey, who am I. Also, why doesn't the union talk about what they are to gain? Let's do the math. 42,000 employees @ $25 per month union dues = A cool million a month. Then lets add up the "great benefits" they claim to offer at a way higher price then the free market. 42,000 x $1500 per month for benefits = another $63 million per month. Who is the winner? the employer or the union? You decide
The US government will do nothing for working people. And the big company's can do what ever they want. Remember corporations are people. Corporations are not people and anyone that thinks they are need to be put on a watch list for treason./
Proponents of the workers (as I am) love this clause for Menards managers! It makes management responsible for treating their employees well enough so that they would never need to join a union, and their company would take care of them as well as--or better than--a union would! As a worker it's great to know that my leaders are directly accountable and responsible for making sure my work environment and responsibilities are challenging, safe, and that the owners and managers are under penalty themselves for keeping it that way. We so often complain that there is no accountability for managers, that they get bonuses and raises and promotions even though the "little man" suffers, and that they just run roughshod over workers--but here is a clear instance of a company making managers put their livelihood on the line to keep employees treated well! Only someone blindly supporting unionization for purely political purposes would see this any other way. (Also, Stephanie Bloomingdale should know that it's "stacking the deck," not "rigging the deck" which most closely defines what she meant to say....)
Boycott all Meynards...they're not that hot of a store anyway!

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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