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Labor Strike FAQ

We spend much of our time at work, so a safe and healthy work environment is important. Some have formed labor organizations or unions to safeguard employees' legal rights and ensure they're protected.

Workers and employers disagree about basic employment terms and conditions. However, a labor strike can result when a significant disagreement occurs and discussions to resolve the issue break down. Read on to find answers to some frequently asked questions about labor strikes.

What is a labor strike?

All private sector employees have the right to strike. A labor strike occurs when a group of employees collectively agree to stop working to gain a concession from an employer, such as health care or paid time off.

This usually happens after contract negotiations have broken down, and most workers in the bargaining unit, usually a trade union, have voted for the strike. Workers then walk out or initiate a work stoppage in protest. Strikes and picketing are protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) under certain conditions and varying degrees.

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. Both sides must negotiate in good faith to reach a collective bargaining agreement.

Are there different types of strikes?

Two lawful kinds of protected strikes under the NLRA are economic strikes and unfair labor practices strikes.

Economic strikes involve issues around employee pay, working hours, and benefits. By law, employers cannot fire you, but employers can hire new permanent employees to fill the positions of striking workers.

A strike over unfair labor practices occurs when an employer violates labor laws. Strikers cannot face firing or permanent replacement. Examples include an employer interfering with employees' right to form a union, refusing to bargain in good faith, and discriminating against employees based on union membership.

An unlawful or unprotected strike is a slow-down strike in which employees deliberately restrict the pace of their work. Sit-in strikes are also not protected. A sit-in involves employees occupying the workspace but preventing any work from occurring.

What issues cause strikes?

Most often, strikes concern financial and labor disagreements. Including 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.

How does a strike happen?

For a strike to occur, a union or group of workers begins negotiations with an employer about the union members' terms and conditions. A threat of strike action is the primary weapon that the workers have. Workers walk off the job if collective demands are not met.

For a strike to occur, union leadership must call for a strike, which can only happen if enough union members have voted for the strike. Each union has rules dictating what percentage of workers must vote for a strike to occur. The business might shut down and feel financial strain once the workers strike and stop coming to work. This puts pressure on the employer and gives the workers leverage in the negotiations.

What is a no-strike clause?

Most employers negotiate with union representatives to include no-strike clauses. These clauses stipulate that workers won't strike for the duration of a labor contract. These provisions ban all strikes during the contract term, except those arising from abnormally dangerous working conditions. No strike clauses make wildcat strikes illegal. Of course, once the contract ends, workers are free to renegotiate the contract terms or strike again.

What is a lockout?

A lockout is a temporary withholding or denial of employment initiated by an employer during a labor dispute to gain concessions or resist worker demands. Employers force lockouts rather than call for them 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.

Can I get fired for going on strike?

Typically, no, employers cannot fire employees for going on strike. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has said that the NLRA protects the right to strike. Employers cannot terminate striking employees for exercising this right. However, the law will only protect lawful strikes.

Will I get paid while on strike?

Strikers will not receive their usual paycheck from their employer. Workers may be eligible to receive money from funds like the Brotherhood of Teamsters Strike Fund. Many local unions also maintain funds to pay workers on strike. Some workers may also be eligible for strike benefits provided by the unions, which may offer health insurance to striking workers.

Can I collect unemployment while on strike?

Generally, workers on strike aren't eligible for unemployment benefits. There are some exceptions. For example, union members who do not participate in a strike but still lose their jobs due to a strike may be able to collect unemployment benefits. Some states also allow unemployment benefits for jobless employees due to an employer-initiated lockout.

Can I strike if I am a public employee?

The right of public employees to strike will depend on your state law. Several states allow public employees to strike, while most states prohibit it. For instance, a public employee covered by a union may strike in Illinois.

Federal law prohibits government employees from striking.

Get Legal Advice About Labor Disputes

Labor disputes involve several competing interests and can become complex. Frequently, unions provide workers with legal representation and fight for the rights of employees. 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.

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