Menard Hit With Class Action Suits
One of the world’s richest plutocrats faces multiple suits for chiseling his workers.
John Menard, Jr. has become the poster boy for the greed of America’s super wealthy.
Menard, 77, the chief executive of Eau Claire-based Menard’s company, now ranks as the 95th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of $13.9 billion, according to Bloomberg’s ranking of the world’s top billionaires.
Menard ranks near the top of the world’s richest 1 percent, a group “who have seen their share of the globe’s total wealth increase from 42.5% at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017,” rising to $140 trillion, as The Guardian reports. They have amassed “the greatest concentration of wealth since the US Gilded Age at the turn of the 20th century, when families like the Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts controlled vast fortunes,” the publication notes.
Menard has prospered by building his privately owned chain of 300 big-box hardware and home repair stores in 14 states, but also by chiseling his workers, a series of class action suits claim. As the Dayton Daily News has reported, two law firms are suing the company in federal court in Columbus, Ohio “on behalf of workers who say they weren’t properly paid wages and overtime.” The suit alleges “that Menards failed to properly pay about 160 current and former hourly Menards employees in 13 states, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act… and state wage and hour laws.”
The suit claims that Menards has violated this law by not paying overtime of 1.5 times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 per work week, by not paying workers for short breaks lasting 20 minutes or less, not paying them for attending certain store meetings and for job training required of workers. “The fact that an employer as large as Menards required their employees to clock out to use the restroom is unacceptable,” Bob DeRose, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement quoted by the newspaper.
The lawsuit comes just months after three similar suits were filed last fall in Indiana and Ohio, as the Minneapolis weekly City Pages reported. A suit by Maurice Bradley, “formerly an hourly worker” for Menards, alleged the company required workers “to clock out for any amount of time spent in breaks, including the mere minutes it takes to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, or smoke a cigarette. Menards would then subtract wages accordingly.”
In reponse to the lawsuits, “Menards denied it broke any federal labor laws,” the story noted.
As I’ve previously written, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune once described Menards’ manner of handling an employee as “something exhumed from the Bronze Age with all its primitive logic intact.”
In 2015, a copy of Menards employment agreement for all managers was leaked to Bill Lueders and The Progressive magazine: it stipulates that “The Manager’s income shall be automatically reduced by sixty percent (60%) of what it would have been if a union of any type is recognized within your particular operation during the term of this Agreement.”
Longtime labor reporter and Urban Milwaukee contributor Dominique Paul Noth did a follow-up story for People’s World with some interesting analysis by experts on labor law. Prof. Paul Secunda, head of Marquette University‘s Labor and Employment Law Program, told Noth that Menard’s demand on management was on its face blatantly illegal interference with worker rights outlined in Section 7 of NLRB law and may also involve portions of Section 8 dealing with discrimination and interference. He noted that “blaming supervisors for not being anti-union enough not only interferes with their right as individual employees but also is a derivative violation of their employees’ rights to organize since they will inevitably be coerced and intimidated as a result of the company policy.”
Seth Goldstein, a New York City-based organizer for the Office and Professional Employees International Union, called Menard “one of the worst union busters I’ve ever seen,” adding “I can’t find anyone who likes him or likes working for him.”
Goldstein noted that Menards’ contracts for employees don’t have an end date and the binding arbitration clause it long imposed lasts years after a worker leaves, with direct warnings not to work for a competitor.
The National Labor Relations Board, in response to the Progressive story, found in 2016 that Menards committed multiple violations of federal labor law. It determined that the clause threatening a 60 percent cut in pay for a manager who lets a union be established was a violation, but took no action, as Menard’s had already removed this language from the agreements. The NLRB also found Menards was violating labor law by requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements that preclude them from engaging in legal action, including class action suits. But Menards also agreed to stop requiring this of employees.
However, in response to the recent class action suits, the company responded that any workers’ disagreements must be handled through private mandatory arbitration, without the right to appeal, rather than in public courts, City Pages reported. But “the workers pushed back, pointing out that Menards had agreed” as part of the NLRB settlement “that it wouldn’t force employees to waive their rights to sue.”
All of which leaves a question as to whether Menards has actually stopped requiring such contracts, as it promised the NLRB. That issue may be revisited in these class action suits.
For the full story on the bizarre lifestyle and tight-fisted business practices of John Menard, see our past story, The Strange Life of John Menard.
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