Menards caught threatening workers with docked pay for trying to unionize

700 black employees alleged Menards discriminated against them.

700 black employees alleged Menards discriminated against them.

“Save big money at Menards!” – but at what cost?

The Wisconsin-based home improvement chain doesn’t treat its people very well. It has an employee handbook that highlights how workers aren’t allowed to sue the company for any reason, but they can still be fired without warning and without recourse.

Store managers’ contracts also state that their income will be automatically reduced by 60 percent if their underlings decide to unionize.

In fact, Menards' reputation on labor is so bad that even Donald Trump chastised the company in 2013:

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2013
In December, Seth Goldstein of the Office and Professional Employees Union filed a complaint against this policy with the National Labor Relations Board.

Goldstein accused Menards of violating national labor laws by retaliating against workers for their union activity.  

"I've had two people I've been in contact with since then, who are confirming everything that my research provided about the atmosphere, the low wages, the threats that are made to managers that they'll lose profit sharing if they unionize," Goldstein says. "The [workers] basically don't have a way to complain. Gossiping is against the rules."

The board responded last week, concluding that Menards’ handbook way overstepped the line between firm-but-fair boss and vindictive, totalitarian employer.

The NLRB let Menards off the hook for its 60 percent pay reduction for managers policy, which was quietly stricken from the handbook when media first reported on it last year.

At the same time, the NLRB did find that Menards maintained illegal and over-broad rules against distributing union literature in the workplace, and that its at-will employment provision was unfair.

Menards continues to dock merit pay for workers attempting to unionize, lumping union talk in with “questionable attitude” or “gossip,” according to the NLRB. The company’s practice of forcing employees to sign away their right to file class action lawsuits also needs to be changed.

A class action suit may absolutely be on the horizon, Goldstein says. "[The NLRB is] gonna first try to settle the case. If Menards doesn’t agree to it, they’re gonna have to file a complaint against Menards," he says. "This issue is just the beginning." 

In other wacky developments, Menards spokeswoman Jesse O'Mara announced on Monday that a new store based in New Philadelphia, Ohio, will be put on hold until after the presidential election. 

"We are a family owned business and with the Obama Administration scaring the dickens out of all family businesses in the U.S.A. at present and with no certainty if the next administration will be any better, we have decided not to risk expansion until things are more settled," O'Mara told the Times Reporter of New Philadelphia.  

Goldstein says that Menard shouldn't hold his breath for someone who will be sympathetic to him.

"I think John Menard's losing it and I think he's gone cuckoo," Goldstein says. "I think he's angry at the NLRB for asserting workers' rights. He's worried that Hillary or Bernie, one of them will get elected, and they'll use the enforcement power of the NLRB. It's about time, because he's been able to get away with everything he's been doing to create misery for his workers."