It's common for workers and employers to disagree about basic employment terms and conditions. But when a disagreement is significant, and discussions to resolve the issue break down, sometimes a labor strike will result. Read on to find answers to some frequently asked questions about labor strikes.
Q: What is a labor strike?
A labor strike occurs when workers collectively agree to stop working in order to gain a concession from an employer. This usually happens after contract negotiations have broken down, and a majority of workers in the bargaining unit have voted for the strike. Both strikes and picketing are protected activities under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") under certain conditions and to varying degrees.
Q: What issues cause strikes?
Typically, strikes arise out of economic grievances or disagreements, including those about wages, hours, time off, raises, promotions, health benefits, and retirement benefits. Strikes can also arise from allegations of unsafe working conditions or unfair labor practices that violate state or federal labor laws.
Q: How does a strike happen?
For a strike to occur, a union or group of workers begins negotiations with an employer. A threat of strike action is the main weapon that the workers has—essentially the workers will walk off the job if their collective demands are not met. For a strike to occur, union leadership must call for a strike, which can only occur if enough union members have voted for the strike. Each individual union has rules dictating what percentage of workers must vote for a strike in order for it to occur. Once the workers strike and stop coming to work, the business might shut down and feel financial strain, which puts pressure on the employer and gives the workers leverage in the negotiations.
Q: What is a no strike clause?
Most employers insist that unions agree to "no strike" clauses, which stipulate that worker won't strike during the duration of a labor contract. These sorts of provisions ban essentially all strikes during the life of the contract, except for those that arise out of abnormally dangerous working conditions. No strike clauses make "wildcat strikes"—strikes unauthorized by the union—illegal. Of course, once the contract expires, workers are free to strike again.
Q: What is a lockout?
A lockout is a temporary withholding or denial of employment initiated by an employer during a labor dispute with the goal of gaining concessions or resisting demands from workers. Lockouts are forced by employers, rather than being called for by unions. If, during labor negotiations, the union won't meet the employer's conditions, the employer "locks out" the union workers and brings in replacement workers.
Q: Can I be fired for going on strike?
Typically, workers cannot be fired for going on strike. The NLRA protects the right of workers to strike and prohibits employers from terminating employees for exercising this right. However, the law will only protect lawful strikes.
Q: Will I get paid while on strike?
Workers on strike will not receive their usual paycheck from their employer. However, there may be other income sources for workers on strike. Workers may be eligible to receive money from funds like the Brotherhood of Teamsters Strike Fund. Many local union unions also maintain funds to pay workers on strike. Some workers may also be eligible for strike benefits provided by the unions, which offers health insurance to striking workers.
Q: Can I collect unemployment while on strike?
Generally, workers on strike aren't eligible for unemployment benefits. There are some exceptions, however. For example, union workers who do not participate in a strike, but still lose their jobs as a result of a strike may be able to collect unemployment benefits. Some states also allow unemployment benefits for those who become unemployed due to an employer-initiated lock out.
Q: Can I strike if I am a public employee?
The right of public employees to strike will depend on the laws of your particular state. Currently, only 11 states allow public employees to strike, while the other 39 prohibit it.
Q: What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is the process through which a union or group of workers negotiates with an employer. The NLRA gives workers the right to organize, join unions, and collectively bargain. Typically, both sides have an obligation to collectively bargain in "good faith."
Get Legal Advice about Labor Disputes
Labor disputes involve several competing interests and can become complex. Frequently, unions provide workers with legal representation, however, there may be times when you should seek outside independent counsel. For legal advice about labor strikes or labor disputes, speak with an experienced local labor law attorney.