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Crushin’ It Apparel: When an Employer Retaliates

“We have shifted to the importance of acting together rather than as individuals,"

Rebecca Meier-Rao, Worker Justice Wisconsin Executive Director

The employees of Crushin’ It Apparel, a screen-printing shop, have been placed on illegal unpaid leave for exercising their right to organize. 

On Friday, August 26, the shop’s workplace organizing committee submitted a petition to their employer inviting him to a meeting to negotiate their demands which include

  1. Cooler working conditions
  2. That management maintain a clean work area
  3. That paychecks be paid correctly and regularly
  4. That workers be treated with respect 
  5. A pay raise (and more)

Rather than engage in a good faith dialogue, employer Jeremy Kruk retaliated; shouting and threatening to dismiss the employees if they did not rescind the letter by Monday. He claimed the document was “filled with lies,” despite admitting paycheck discrepancies due to “bank-related” issues. One worker described how temperatures inside the building could reach up to 100F during the day since only one of the building’s AC units is functional. To make matters worse, “[the owner] doesn’t turn it on because he doesn’t want to pay the electric bill,” the worker stated. In an article about this topic by the Capital Times, reporters remarked it was “notably hot” inside the shop. 

Another experienced screen printer at Crushin’ It Apparel discussed how workers are provided with no personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and respirators, and are left paying out-of-pocket. “We tell the owner what we need, and they write it down, but we have yet to see it materialize,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small business owner or a big corporation — workers deserve fundamental rights.”

Kevin Gundlach, President of South Central Federation of Labor

When the employees showed up to work on Monday, united and in support of the letter, the owner placed them on unpaid leave, saying unless they recanted their support of the petition, they would be considered having resigned. This is blatant retaliation against workers’ right to organize. Though these workers are non-unionized and are employed in a right-to-work state, they are still offered certain protections under the NLRA. Perhaps the most important of these is the right to protected concerted activity, explained by the NLRB as:

“The law we enforce gives employees the right to act together to try to improve their pay and working conditions, with or without a union. If employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in protected group activity, the National Labor Relations Board will fight to restore what was unlawfully taken away.”

“Even if you’re not represented by a union — even if you have zero interest in having a union — the National Labor Relations Act protects your right to band together with coworkers to improve your lives at work,”

Worker Justice Wisconsin and the South Central Federation of Labor moved quickly to organize and support a picket for the workers that are effectively facing a lockout from their employer. From Tuesday, August 30th, to Thursday, September 1st, union members, community supporters, and allies alike joined Crushin’ It Apparel workers on the picket line. 

WJW and Crushin’ It Apparel workers have also filed a claim for unfair labor practices with the NLRB to report the owner’s illegal retaliation and violation of the workers’ right to protected concerted activity. 

Though picketing has ceased for now, there are other ways to show your support of Crushin’ It Apparel workers. Without a paycheck, many of these workers are financially vulnerable. Consider donating to our Worker Solidarity Fund: your donations go directly to these workers who are in need of support. Once you’re at the donation page, be sure to select “Worker Solidarity Fund” from the dropdown picklist. 

Donate to Worker Solidarity Fund

Donations go directly to workers in need; currently, Crushin' It Apparel workers.

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