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Employee Interview With Reporter About Low Wages Was Protected Concerted Activity

March 25, 2021

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) released a Division of Advice Memorandum finding that an employee’s interview with aWashington Postreporter about the impact of a raise in the state minimum wage amounted to protected concerted activity. According to the NLRB, any activity concerning a minimum-wage increase is for the purpose of mutual aid or protection. Here, the activity’s goal directly benefited the employer’s employees, many of whom were paid minimum wage. According to the NLRB, the interview also constituted concerted activity because by sharing with the reporter the difficulties of surviving as a minimum-wage worker, the employee was speaking out on behalf of coworkers and seeking public support for higher wages at the workplace.

Owner referred the reporter to the employee.The employee was a front desk clerk at a Days Inn in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The reporter spoke with the hotel owner first. After the owner stated a position against the minimum-wage hike, the reporter asked to speak to someone about it, and the owner directed the reporter to the employee. After talking for about 20 minutes, the reporter and the employee agreed that the reporter would return later that day, which he did. The employee introduced the reporter to a manager, and the three of them had a discussion during which the manager talked about hotel upgrades, after which the reporter and employee spoke in a separate room for about two hours. Among other things, the employee spoke about not being able to pay electric bills due to low wages.

Article puts employer in poor light.The published article stated that instead of paying employees above the minimum wage, the employer had chosen to make hotel upgrades; it did not attribute the upgrades statements to the manager. The employer received phone calls offering to pay the employee’s electric bills and asking why the owner did not pay its employees more.

Employer fired.Very upset with the article, the owner fired the employee. The manager later called the employee and explained that the employee should not have agreed to the interview because it discussed the hotel and the owner. There were two follow-up articles about the employee’s firing that were sympathetic toward the employee; other publications also ran articles about the employee’s discharge.

Concerted activity.The Board concluded that the employee’s interview was concerted activity because she spoke to the news media about the hardships minimum-wage workers faced and explicitly complained that the full raise in Arkansas’s minimum wage was not occurring sooner. She was seeking to improve not only own her own working conditions but those of coworkers, all of whom were paid at the minimum-wage level, as well as other minimum-wage workers. The employer kept its employees at the minimum-wage level, and an increase in the minimum wage would directly have benefitted the employee and her coworkers. She made statements in the interview on behalf of herself and coworkers in furtherance of that goal. As the employee texted to the manager after discharge, the employees were making the employer rich while the employee "could barely pay electric."

Seeking public support.The employee was also seeking public support for higher wages for similarly situated minimum-wage employees in Arkansas. As the reporter recalled in his post-discharge article, when the employer threatened to sue if an article was published, the employee responded that it was important to tell her story and that many people shared the experience of earning the minimum wage.

The Board’s conclusion that the employee’s action was concerted was bolstered by the fact that the employee joined a second minimum-wage employee who also gave an interview to the reporter on the same day about the same topic. The employee was likely aware that the reporter was speaking with other workers in Pine Bluff, including at the nearby Burger King, before she spoke at length to the reporter, and she had good reason to believe their stories would be printed in the Washington Post article and would elicit public support for an additional or accelerated increase in their wages.

Protected concerted activities.Accordingly, the Board agreed with the Region that the employee engaged in protected concerted activities when she gave an interview to theWashington Postreporter.