Judge says Gates & Sons Barbeque restaurant retaliated against employees

06/18/2014 5:48 PM

06/18/2014 9:02 PM

A one-day strike last summer by some Kansas City workers at the Main Street restaurant of Gates & Sons Barbeque led to unlawful discrimination against restaurant employees, an administrative law judge ruled Tuesday.

The decision by Paul Bogas, a judge with the National Labor Relations Board, orders the restaurant to reinstate a long-standing free-meal benefit for workers that was taken away shortly after the labor action on July 30, 2013.

Gates received 14 days to respond to the order. Willis L. Toney, a Kansas City attorney representing Gates, said the restaurant chain would “have no comment whatsoever” about the decision.

The order resulted from an unfair labor practices complaint filed by the Workers’ Organizing Committee of Kansas City.

The complaint alleged that the Main Street restaurant eliminated its “practice of providing free daily lunches to employees” after nine of them participated in protected strike activity according to national labor law.

Fred Wickham, an Independence attorney representing the Workers’ Organizing Committee, said other charges against the restaurant were settled before trial and the decision on the remaining employee-benefit complaint was “about as good as it gets.”

The Gates case was one of several dozen allegations of unlawful discrimination filed against area restaurant operators in connection with last summer’s fast-food wage protests. Michael E. Werner with the NLRB general counsel’s office represented the workers at trial.

Judy Ancel, director of the Worker Education and Labor Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said many other retaliation allegations related to the strike have been settled through intervention by worker advocacy organizations.

She said representatives from several organizations and area ministerial alliances have helped some workers retain their jobs or restore benefits after visiting with affected employers.

According to the findings of fact in the Gates case, the company was unable to prove that the discontinuation of its long-standing benefit — one free sandwich and side dish a day for employees on the job — was unrelated to the workers’ pre-announced walkout.

Testimony at the NLRB trial also indicated that the Main Street manager at the time had expressed “animus” toward the workers by saying such things as they would “feel (his) wrath” if they participated and “either you are with me or you are against me.”

The strikers were allowed to return to their jobs after initially not being given hours to work, the decision said, but a sign was posted a week later: “There will be no employee meals, no loans no tabs. Don’t ask.”

There had been no indication before the strike that the free-meal employee benefit would be discontinued, and no business or financial reason was revealed as to why it might be taken away, the judge decided.

The judge found that labor law protected the workers who “concertedly engaged in a protected strike.”

Gates was ordered to post an NLRB notice that it was found in violation of federal labor law.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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