Whole Foods lawyers blast Biden admin. for forcing company to allow workers to wear BLM masks

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Whole Foods is pushing back and asserting that the Biden administration’s labor relations boss is attempting to violate its First Amendment rights by forcing the company to allow employees to wear Black Lives Matter masks and insignia while working.

Attorney for the Amazon-owned upscale grocery outlet made the assertion in a December 17 court filing in response to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claims that Whole Foods has illegally banned employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work, according to Bloomberg.

Whole Foods is putting forth that Section 7 of the NLRB, which ostensibly protects employees’ right to take collective action related to working conditions, doesn’t extend to workers’ BLM messages, which it refers to as “political and/or social justice speech.”

The company’s filing argues that “BLM” and related phrases “are not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving working conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores.”

“Employees do not have a protected right under Section 7 of the Act to display the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘BLM’ in the workplace,” the company’s attorneys wrote in their filing.

Whole Foods accused National Labor Review Board (NLRB) consul Jennifer Abruzzo in a December 17 filing of violating the company’s First Amendment rights by attempting to “compel” speech and “unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting Whole Foods’ protected trademarks,” Bloomberg reported.

The filing is in response to a complaint that was made by the NLRB in December. It was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The faceoff between Whole Foods and employees started in July 2020 when they claimed that the chain prevented them from wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work. The employees were reportedly threatened with termination if they did. Twenty-seven plaintiffs accused the store of selectively enforcing its dress code banning “visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising” unrelated to the company.

The lawsuit by the employees contends that they had “commonly worn Pride flags in support of their LGBTQ+ coworkers without being disciplined by Whole Foods” and stated that its “selective enforcement” of its dress code “constitutes unlawful discrimination.”

Whole Foods announced an updated dress code for all workers in its outlets in October of 2020. It banned visible logos, slogans, messages, or flags of any kind, among other things.

The NLRB is asserting that Whole Foods is in violation of federal labor law. It is claiming that workers have the right to engage in “concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.” Abruzzo is charging that “racial justice advocacy” by workers such as displaying a BLM slogan at work is part of the “group action to improve their lot as employees.”

A counter-filing from Whole Foods argued that workers’ rights to participate in collective action tied to the workplace do not include BLM messages.

Whole Foods also accused Abruzzo of “unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting WFM’s protected trademarks’ by trying to mandate that it allow the display of a political message in conjunction with its trademarked uniforms and logos.”

The case will be heard in March and has the potential to be precedent-setting one way or the other.


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