Whole Foods Workers Have No Protected Right To Wear Black Lives Matter Gear, Judge Rules

An administrative law judge didn't buy the argument that wearing BLM clothing on the job was part of advocating for a better workplace.

A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled Wednesday that Whole Foods did not violate the law by forbidding workers from wearing Black Lives Matter clothing and accessories on the job.

Administrative Law Judge Ariel Sotolongo wrote in his decision that the grocer maintained an illegally broad prohibition against employees donning messages on their work clothes. But he decided that Black Lives Matter messaging itself was not “protected activity” under the law because it wasn’t related directly to workers’ jobs.

The case stemmed from several walkouts and protests at Whole Foods stores around the country where workers were instructed to remove Black Lives Matter pins and clothings.

The workers ― and the labor board’s general counsel ― argued that banning the racial justice messages violated their protected right to band together and advocate for a better workplace. Sotolongo disagreed.

While acknowledging the case was “novel” and “complex,” Sotolongo wrote that there was “simply no evidence” that there were employee concerns about racial inequality on the job before they started wearing Black Lives Matter messages on their clothes.

An NLRB administrative law judge ruled that it was not a protected right to wear Black Lives Matter clothing on the job.
An NLRB administrative law judge ruled that it was not a protected right to wear Black Lives Matter clothing on the job.
via Associated Press

“The fact that BLM may be a movement of great significance to African Americans, and that its goals are valid, does not mean that a rule prohibiting the displaying of such messages at work is ‘racist,’ as some employees implied,” he wrote.

The judge did rule, however, that Whole Foods’ prohibition against messaging on clothing went too far, since it could prevent workers from wearing union pins and other insignia he said would be clearly tied to work.

The NLRB’s general counsel declined to comment through a spokesperson.

The ruling does not mark the end of the case. The general counsel could appeal the ruling to the board in Washington, D.C., for review, and they could decide that wearing Black Lives Matter messaging itself is protected activity under the law. The board currently holds a Democratic majority.

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