What if Wednesdays: Strikes

Tis the seasons for strikes.  As the weather gets warmer, it’s a lot easier for unions to convince their members to go out on strike.  Here’s some of the nuts and bolts about strikes with the caveat that all strikes must be handled differently and there is perhaps no other place in labor law where legal counsel must be sought in order to safely navigate your company through the land mine of NLRB laws regarding strikes.

Most collective bargaining agreements today have a no-strike clause in them, meaning that during the term of the agreement employees are not allowed to go out on strike.  But some companies still opt for their employees to go out on strike if they so choose, and thus, those contracts do not have a no-strike clause in them.  The majority of the time employees go out on strike is after their collective bargaining agreement expires and the Union and Company are negotiating the terms of a new contract.

In order for a union to take employees out on strike, the Union must get a strike vote with the majority of the employees (that show up to vote) voting in favor of a strike.  This vote is then typically good for one year.  Getting strike approval is not hard.  Since strikes are largely over bargaining issues, Unions employ two ways to get the vote.  First, as a prerequisite to bargaining the Union takes a strike vote “just in case” it’s needed during negotiations.  This is a tactic of most UAW Locals.  Secondly, after a couple of bargaining sessions, the Union tells it membership that the Company isn’t taking them seriously and so the employees may need to strike to get management’s attention.  The Teamsters frequently use this approach.

So when the day comes to go out on strike – whether shortly after the vote or up to a year later – the employees either don’t show up for work or they decide at a certain time to walk out en masse.  When this happens a plethora of legal rights are bestowed upon the strikers, and employers can easily get themselves into trouble.  What an employer can do all depends on whether the strikers are economic strikers or unfair labor practice strikers.  Both types of strikers carry with them different do’s and don’ts for employers and that goes way beyond this blog post.  However, no matter what type of striker they are, attorneys need to be contacted to advise whether or not an injunction is necessary limiting the number of strikers, location of the pickets, etc.

Striking employees always seeks unemployment from the State and depending on which state you’re in, unemployment is either routinely granted or denied.  Those employees also receive picket-line pay, typically around $200/week for walking the line X number of hours.  If employees want to cross the picket line and return to work (oftentimes the Union makes them resign from the Union first), management must accept them back.  This is always a sticky spot because management has to allow them back, but sometimes the employees cross the picket line only to gain intelligence about what’s going on on the inside or to sabotage production. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have proper strike planning in place.  Although unionized employees are usually the ones who go out on strike, any employee anywhere has the right to strike any employer.  When this happens, whether union or not, management needs to know how they are going to react.  Who is management going to call?  Which management personnel is going to run which machine?  How is the Company going to honor all of its contracts?  What is the Company going to do if employees purposely covertly damage machines on their way out the door?  How will a picket line, handbilling, fliers, billboard, newspaper ads, etc. affect the Company’s production?  How will it affect the Company’s bottom line.  All of these (and more) are questions that must be dealt with before you’re in the situation of looking out your window and seeing picketers lining your sidewalk.

Here’s a list of some recent strikes that I’m following:

And for reading this far, you deserve to read this article: “He was a Scab, So I Hit Him . . . and I’d Do the Same Today

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