CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A well-known West Virginia restaurant chain is facing a complaint from the National Labor Relations Board after an investigation found evidence the company unlawfully disciplined and threatened employees who tried to form a union.
Tudor's Biscuit World managers are accused of violating federal labor laws when they suspended two employees leading the unionization effort at the store's franchise location in Elkview, West Virginia, according to a complaint signed by National Labor Relations Board Regional Director Matthew Denholm. Denholm's office investigates unfair labor practice charges for the federal government in parts of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.
The complaint also alleges that Elkview Tudor's managers repeatedly told employees involved in the union effort they could lose their jobs or see their pay docked if they formed a union. One supervisor is accused of saying anti-union employees could give the pro-union employees “as much hell” as they wanted.
Tudor's Biscuit World did not respond to a request from The Associated Press seeking comment. In a response to the complaint filed last week, an attorney for Tudor's denied all allegations of unfair labor practices.
The complaint against Tudor's franchise in Elkview, a town of fewer than 2,000 people, echoes a larger national movement of organizing among retail and food service workers. Federal labor officials filed a sweeping complaint Friday accusing Starbucks of unfair labor practices at its stores in Buffalo, New York, including retaliation against pro-union employees.
Denholm told the AP on Monday that an investigation of the charges at his regional office found “probable cause” to believe Tudor’s violated federal law. The case will now go to trial before an administrative law judge in Charleston on June 13 in U.S. District Court. The judge will then issue a decision and can recommend remedies to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, Denholm said.
Relatively unknown outside the region, Tudor’s Biscuit World is a staple of West Virginia where diners can get made-from-scratch biscuits doused in gravy; country-fried steak and sandwiches including the Miner or the Mountaineer. Founded in Charleston in 1980, the chain now has more than 70 locations, mostly in West Virginia and in parts of neighboring states Ohio and Kentucky.
Elkview Tudor's employees announced their intention to form a union after they said the company failed to alert them when a worker tested positive for COVID-19, and one worker who questioned the policy saw her hours cut. They said employees often had to work past their scheduled hours to cover shifts and then were reprimanded for incurring overtime, among other allegations.
Once they began organizing, they said their employers aggressively tried to discourage their efforts. When workers failed to garner enough votes to form a union during a January election, organizers announced they had filed unfair labor practice charges against the company and urged that the vote should be thrown out.
Tudor's employee Cynthia Nicholson, a 64-year-old prep cook who has been leading the Tudor's union effort, said Monday she was excited to hear about the complaint.
“I really want to see some good come out of this,” said Nicholson, who was one of the employees suspended by Tudor's. “If I didn’t proceed on and take this to the end, I would feel that I was just as guilty as they were. I hope they learn you can't treat people like they’re replaceable. We are human beings."
Nicholson was inspired to form a union because of her father and late husband, who were both union men working in coal mining and pipefitting in West Virginia.
“Right before he passed away, he said, ‘Cynthia, you're gonna do great things,'" she said of her husband, who died of cancer. "At that moment, I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then it hit me when we started organizing and getting out there. He would be so proud.”
United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 Organizing Director Alan Hanson, who helped the Tudor's employees file unfair labor practice charges against the company, said it was immediately clear to him that Tudor's tried to discourage workers from organizing in the lead-up to the election.
“Companies have a playbook and they follow it all across the country — whether it’s Tudor's in Elkview or Starbucks in Buffalo,” he said. “Unfortunately, companies who are desperate to keep the union out are willing to use any and all tactics.”
More often than not, companies are not held accountable for the actions they take to stop organizing campaigns, he said.
“It’s hard to get workers, particularly in small towns, particularly with employers like Tudor’s who loom large in the cultural significance in places like West Virginia, to stand up against them and say: ‘What is happening to me is not right,’” he said. “The workers themselves were the ones who bravely stood up and said, ‘We’re not going to be silent when the company violates our rights.’"