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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. National Labor Relations Board on Monday said it has authorized legal action against Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) for allegedly retaliating against workers who participated in strikes against the company over low pay.
Groups of Walmart workers went on strike nationwide on November 22, 2012, to protest the retailer's wages and worker benefits. The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is typically the busiest shopping day of the year. The workers also went on strike in May and June before the company's annual shareholder meeting.
The company retaliated against employees who joined those strikes by firing them, threatening to fire them or disciplining them, the NLRB said in a statement on Monday. The labor board also said that a Walmart spokesman made comments on television threatening workers who planned to join the November protests.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said the company disagrees with the board's action.
"We believe this is just a procedural step and we will pursue our options to defend the company because we believe our actions were legal and justified," she said. "The fact is we provide good jobs and unparalleled opportunities for our associates."
The NLRB is the U.S. agency that enforces the nation's labor laws. It oversees union elections, polices unfair labor practice claims and is charged with enforcing the U.S. National Labor Relations Act, which allows employees to work together to improve their workplace conditions.
The NLRB's general counsel's office would bring any complaint against the retailer if one results. Last month a divided Senate confirmed a former union lawyer to the general counsel's position, essentially the agency's top prosecutor.
The protests were orchestrated by a coalition of union and workers' rights groups, including the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and OUR Walmart, which have pushed for better wages and benefits at the company.
Walmart has no unionized labor in the United States.
"The board's decision confirms what Walmart workers have long known: the company is illegally trying to silence employees who speak out for better jobs," Sarita Gupta of the pro-worker group Jobs for Justice said in a statement.
The NLRB said on Monday that it will issue a complaint against the retailing giant if it cannot reach a settlement with the workers.
"We anticipate the charges will be filed within a week or two if a settlement can't be arranged," an NLRB spokesman told Reuters.
If no settlement is reached and a complaint is filed, Walmart and the board would likely go before an administrative law judge for a trial proceeding.
Reporting by Carlyn Kolker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bernard Orr