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Why Wal-Mart Won't Fire Striking Workers -- and What That Means for You


Plus: A few essential things every non-union striker should know before walking out on the job.

This article was written by Donna Ballman and originally appeared on AOL Jobs.

You might have heard that non-union workers at Wal-Marts around the country have been striking. One of the workers' demands is to stop management retaliation against employees who speak up, and in at least one case, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) workers went back to work after their employer agreed to many of their demands. But most of the workers have not resolved their issues with the mega-retailer.

So why haven't they all been fired? You may not realize it, but even non-union American workers have the right to strike and take other actions to protest and try to improve working conditions, and they can't be fired in retaliation.

Ready to walk out of your job? Hold on. Before you run out the door, here's what you need to know about your right to protest your own working conditions:

Supervisors can't protest: If you're a supervisor, you're out of luck. The law that protects workers who protest working conditions, the National Labor Relations Act, doesn't apply to you.

There is safety in numbers: If you're protesting your own working conditions, you aren't protected against retaliation. However, if you are objecting to something that affects at least one coworker, or with at least one coworker, then you may be legally protected.

You are guaranteed an equivalent job if management fills the position while you're striking: If you walk out (along with coworkers) to seek higher wages, shorter hours, or better working conditions, then you are an "economic striker." That means you are legally protected from being fired, but not from being permanently replaced. You continue to be an employee, and your employer can't fire you for protesting. However, if they hired replacement workers permanently (as opposed to bringing in temps) to keep their business open, they don't have to fire the permanent workers. Once you notify the employer you are ready to go back unconditionally, they need to put you in a substantially equivalent job or recall you for any such job when a position becomes available. If your protest over working conditions is a walkout over unusually dangerous conditions (e.g., radiation exposure, violence, or toxic substances), then you aren't on an economic strike and aren't subject to replacement.

"Unfair labor practice strikers" can't be replaced: If your strike is to protest unfair labor practices by your employer, such as retaliating against workers who discuss or protest working conditions, then you must be reinstated to your job when it's over and cannot be permanently replaced.

More: Wal-Mart Workers: This Is Why We're Striking and Making Black Friday Threat

Picketing is legal: Picketing your employer to protest working conditions or unfair labor practices is protected, subject to certain limitations. You can't block entrances, bully or threaten people trying to enter (including scabs), or engage in violence, but otherwise it is perfectly legal.
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