Employees have a legal right, granted under the National Labor Relations Act, to join together to try to improve their wages or working conditions. Frequently, that results in the attempt to unionize or the decision to join an existing union that already applies to their trade.
However, that doesn’t mean that their employers are going to like it. Put into that situation, it isn’t uncommon for employers to engage in activity that’s generally considered to be “union busting.” One tactic that large employers sometimes use is simply closing down the entire department or store where the unionizing activity is taking place and dispersing the pro-union employees elsewhere (or letting them go).
For example, the puppeteers who have been a part of the Disney Junior show since it opened in 2003 at the California resort, say that the sudden end to their employment is directly related to their decision to join the American Guild of Variety Artists, a union.
The Guild has already filed two lawsuits against Disney in 2015, alleging that the company reduced employee hours and took other retaliatory action against its puppeteers after they signaled they might unionize. Disney ultimately settled the issue and gave the employees back pay.
Now, Disney claims that it’s time to end the puppet show altogether. The company claims the abrupt ending is a result of a need to “make changes to provide compelling reasons for our guests to visit.” The Disney Junior show itself will return — just without any puppets or the unionized puppeteers.
Unfortunately for the puppeteers, while the timing is suspicious, Disney does have a history of abruptly closing old shows and replacing them with new ones — a fact that might insulate them if it comes to a lawsuit. It does seem strange that the Disney Junior puppet shows in other Disney parks are continuing without interruption.
Any concerted activity that might result in a union is generally seen as bad for the employer — especially if the employer is interested in maintaining conditions the way that they are and doesn’t want to negotiate.
When an employer retaliates against you for a legal, protected activity, like attempting to unionize, an attorney can provide information on your next legal steps.
Source: National Labor Relations Board, “Employee Rights,” accessed March 10, 2017