NLRB Rules Racist ‘Watermelon, Fried Chicken, Africa’ Comments Not Worth Firing Of Union Member
In a decision made Friday, federal labor board officials have decided to ignore racist comments made by a union protester in their determination his employer was wrong to fire him.
Anthony Runion, a union worker at Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, found himself fired by the company for making racist comments back in 2012 to nonunion workers who crossed a picket line he was helping to hold. Many of the nonunion replacement workers were black according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
“Hey, did you bring enough KFC for everyone?” Runion, a United Steelworkers member, allegedly shouted to the nonunion workers. “Go back to Africa, you bunch of fucking losers.”
Though Runion admitted to the first comment, he denied shouting the second. The company argued he was fired solely for making the racist comments in violations of its code of conduct, not because he was picketing. After reviewing a tape of the incident, the NLRB agreed Runion was the most likely person to have made both comments. Despite the conclusion, and an early arbitration decision upholding the termination, the board ordered the company to rehire Runion.
“Having carefully reviewed the video recording, I find that the undisputed record establishes that Runion made the ‘fried chicken and watermelon’ statement,” the decision noted. “Therefore, I find that the video clearly establishes that Runion made both the ‘KFC’ and the ‘fried chicken and watermelon’ statements.”
The board argues that the termination was unjust because picketers are held by a different standard. Specifically that it’s not enough to be racist but that the behavior actually has to be violent in nature.
“I find that Runion was discharged for engaging in picketing activity,” the decision noted. “His conduct on the picket line, while racist and offensive, was not violent in character, not accompanied by violent or threatening behavior, it did not raise a reasonable likelihood of an imminent physical confrontation, and it did not reasonably tend to coerce or intimidate employees in the exercise.”
Michael Avakian, of the Center on National Labor Policy Inc., notes that this shows an ongoing and dangerous trend by the NLRB to favor unions no matter the consequences.
“The new board is completely reversing anything that is antiunion,” Avakian told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They just look at it as whether it’s impeding union activity.”
Avakian notes that it sets a bad precedent. Such a decision puts union workers above nonunion workers and established hate speech laws while making it unclear whether employers can prohibit racist or threatening behavior.
“It’s giving people associated with the union rights and privileges you and I don’t have,” Avakian continued. “Unions don’t have unlimited free speech.”
Though companies are prohibited from firing workers for engaging in union activity, it is not at all uncommon for companies to discipline or even dismiss workers for engaging in racist or hostile activity. Though the NLRB found Runion made the racist comments, in its decision it notes he must be rehired for engaging in protected union activities.
“Make whole Anthony Runion for any loss of earnings and other benefits suffered as a result of the discrimination against him,” the decision ordered. “Compensate Anthony Runion for adverse tax consequences, if any, of receiving a lump-sum backpay award, and file a report with the Social Security Administration allocating the backpay award to the appropriate calendar quarters for said employee.”
The NLRB did not respond to a request for comment from TheDCNF.
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