Preston Xanthopoulos: Feds should butt out of Whole Foods dispute over BLM gear

·5 min read

Can you imagine if the federal government told a private retail business, that they’re allowed to ban political speech by employees while on the job, but they have to make an exception for those that want to wear a “MAGA” t-shirt? Or an, “All Lives Matter” hat?

Can you imagine wanting the government to ever have that authority? I can’t and I don’t. So, why does the government think they can tell a private retailer they can ban political speech or slogans from employees at the work place, but they must make an exception for the slogan, “Black Lives Matter”? This isn’t about the support or opposition to “Black Lives Matter”. This about the rights of a private business and a massive over-reach from an arm of the federal government.

Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos
Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos

Whole Foods Market, the mega organic grocery chain is in a legal battle with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency "vested with the power to safeguard employees' rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative. The agency also acts to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions.” (nlrb.gov)

The saga started in 2020, when a group of employees sued after being banned and threatened with termination if they continued to flout the company policy prohibiting “employees from wearing attire with visible slogans, messages, or logos displaying statements not related to the company.” The employees had worn and wanted to continue to wear “BLM” or “Black Lives Matter” attire while on the job. The NLRB claims Whole Foods broke federal labor law by not allowing, very specifically, the “Black Lives Matter” slogan on masks or clothes.

My first question is, why is the NLRB involved in this?

My second question is, is any one else concerned that the federal government is dictating to private business not only “if” they can have a dress code for employees, but “what” that dress code can be?

They aren’t saying they have to allow “political speech” to be worn by employees. They are very specifically choosing which political speech is required to be allowed. How do I know they are only choosing which political speech? Because back in the summer of 2020, the NLRB was silent when Goodyear Tire stated its dress code barred any expressions of political support “that fall outside the scope of racial justice and equity issues.” That means, the NLRB is not defending the rights of generalized free political speech at the workplace, it’s just defending and demanding for racial advocacy. Again, choosing very specifically what speech is required to be allowed. Nonsense. (Yes, the Goodyear story got twisted, with claims it banned “MAGA” attire, which, while true, is only because they banned any gear unrelated to race or “equality”.)

A private business has every right to ban its employees, particularly those that work with the public, from displaying their various political beliefs during work. In my opinion, it is foolish to do otherwise. If you wear social or political activism slogans, you are making a point and inviting an opinion—in alignment or opposition. That is the point of being politically active. If a customer of a business disagrees with the political statement being made by an employee, it can hurt business. It’s that simple. The idea that the federal government is now in the business of approving—nay, dictating—what speech is forcibly allowed outside the desires and rights of private industry, is appalling.

The National Retail Federation, a wholly non-partisan, apolitical organization agrees, calling the NLRB’s action against Whole Foods “dangerous”. ”This determination by the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel establishes a dangerous and inconsistent precedent for employers.” NRF added it, “supports the notion that employers should be able to maintain content-neutral dress codes that prohibit social or political advocacy speech in the workplace and allow employees to focus on serving their customers.” Of course they should!

When I go to a business that displays political or social messages in any way, whichever side, I get annoyed. I'm there to have a glass of wine, or a burger, or to pick up some eggs. I’m not there to be reminded of the political and social division right now in America. Often, I simply choose not to go back, even if I agree with the message being displayed. It simply isn’t what I want to read or see or discuss, on the rare occasion these days I venture into the world.

This—people like me—is why businesses don’t want any potentially controversial messages being conveyed by employees. Moreover, if an employee is on the job, aren't they representing the company? What if the company or other employees disagree with that message? What if an employee wants to wear a “Blue Lives Matter” mask next to the worker wearing a “Black Lives Matter” one. Who is the decider if that too is “required” to be allowed? The federal government? Well isn‘t that a brilliant idea. First they can tell me what I have to allow my employees to wear, what’s next? What they are not allowed to wear? Why don’t they just pick a national worker uniform with approved slogans and colors. We can even have different colors for different level of employees. Black overalls for the big wigs, blue overalls for the regular folk. Then, forget the hats and stuff, various approved sashes, can be warn to signify approved messages…Geez. Sorry for the repeat reference, but why does our country keep giving me reasons to mention “1984”?

Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos is a former political consultant and member of the media. She’s a native of Hampton Beach where she lives with her family and three poodles. Write to her at PrestonPerspective@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Commentary: Feds should butt out of Whole Foods dispute over BLM gear

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