Union Negotiation Tactics

Strikes

Strike action, also called a labor strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work.

Learning Objectives

Outline the basic procedures of a workers strike

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances.
  • A strike is typically reserved as a threat of last resort during negotiations between the company and the union, which may occur just before or immediately after the contract expires.
  • Occasionally, workers decide to strike without the sanction of a labor union. In many countries, these unofficial strikes do not enjoy the same legal protections as recognized union strikes.
  • Sometimes people continue to work during a strike action, or temporary and permanent replacement workers are hired to take the place of those on strike.
  • Unions faced with a strikebreaking situation may try to inhibit the use of strikebreakers by a variety of methods. Companies may respond by increasing security forces and seeking court injunctions.
  • Unions faced with a strikebreaking situation may try to inhibit the use of strikebreakers by a variety of methods. Companies may respond by increasing security forces and seeking court injunctions.

Key Terms

  • collective bargaining: A method of negotiation in which employees negotiate as a group with their employers, usually via a trade union
  • labor union: A continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment; a trade union.
  • work-to-rule: Of or pertaining to a labor protest in which employees do only the minimum work required by the rules of a workplace, following safety or other regulations to the letter in order to cause a slowdown.

What is a Strike?

A strike action, also called labor strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances.

Strikes became important during the Industrial Revolution when mass labor became important in factories and mines. In most countries, strike actions were quickly made illegal, as factory owners had far more political power than workers. Most western countries partially legalized striking in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Why Do Workers Strike?

Most strikes are undertaken by labor unions during collective bargaining. The object of collective bargaining is to obtain a contract (an agreement between the union and the company) which may include a no-strike clause or penalizes the union and/or the workers if they walk out while the contract is in force. The strike is typically reserved as a threat of last resort during negotiations between the company and the union.

Occasionally, workers decide to strike without the sanction of a labor union. This is either because the union refuses to endorse the tactic, or because the workers concerned are not unionized. Such strikes are often described as unofficial.

Strikes without formal union authorization are also known as wildcat strikes. In many countries, wildcat strikes do not enjoy the same legal protections as recognized union strikes, and may result in penalties for the union members who participate.

What Happens During A Strike?

  1. A strike may consist of workers refusing to attend work or picketing outside the workplace to prevent or dissuade people from working in their place or conducting business with their employer.
  2. Less frequently workers may occupy the workplace, but refuse either to do their jobs or to leave. This is known as a sit-down strike.
  3. A similar tactic is the work-in, where employees occupy the workplace but still continue work, often without pay. This tactic attempts to show they are still useful, or that worker self- management can be successful. This occurred with factory occupations in the Bienno Rossi strikes-the “two red years” of Italy from 1919-1920.
  4. Another unconventional tactic is work-to-rule, in which workers perform their tasks exactly as they are required but no better. For example, workers might follow all safety regulations in a way that it impedes their productivity. Such strikes may be a form of “partial strike” or “slowdown. “

What is a Strikebreaker?

A strikebreaker continues to work during strike action by trade unionists or acts as a temporary or permanent replacement worker hired to take the place of those on strike.

The act of working during a strike – whether by strikebreakers, management personnel, non-unionized employees or members of other unions not on strike – is known as “crossing the picket line,” regardless of whether it involves actually physically crossing a line of picketing strikers. Crossing a picket line can result in passive and/or active retaliation against that working person.

What Methods do Employers use to Deal with Strikes?

Most strikes called by unions are somewhat predictable; they typically occur after the contract has expired.

  1. Strike preparation: Companies which produce products for sale will frequently increase inventories prior to a strike. Salaried employees may be called upon to take the place of strikers, which may entail advance training. If the company has multiple locations, personnel may be redeployed to meet the needs of reduced staff.
  2. Companies may also take out strike insurance prior to an anticipated strike, helping to offset the losses which the strike would cause.
  3. One of the weapons traditionally wielded by already-established unions is strike action. Some companies may decline entirely to negotiate with the union, and respond to the strike by hiring replacement workers. This may create a crisis situation for strikers — do they stick to their original plan and rely upon their solidarity, or is there a chance that the strike may be lost? How long will the strike last? Will strikers’ jobs still be there if the strike fails? Are other strikers defecting from the strike? Companies that hire strikebreakers typically play upon these fears when they attempt to convince union members to abandon the strike and cross the union’s picket line.
  4. Another counter to a strike is a lockout, the form of work stoppage in which an employer refuses to allow employees to work.

Unions faced with a strikebreaking situation may try to inhibit the use of strikebreakers by a variety of methods:

  • establishing picket lines where the strikebreakers enter the workplace
  • discouraging strike breakers from taking or keeping strikebreaking jobs
  • raising the cost of hiring strikebreakers for the company
  • employing public relations tactics
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Teamsters clash with armed police in Minneapolis, 1934.: Members of the Teamsters union wielding pipes clash with armed police during a 1934 strike in Minneapolis.

Boycotts

Union boycotts are a form of industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in another, separate enterprise.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between a trade dispute with a worker’s direct employer and “secondary action”

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The term “secondary action” is intended to be distinct from a trade dispute with a worker’s direct employer, and so may be used to refer to a dispute with the employer’s parent company, its suppliers, financiers, contracting parties, or any other employer in another industry.
  • In most countries there are limits on the purpose for which people can go on strike. In many English-speaking nations, restrictions have been placed on which organizations trade unions may strike against.
  • Secondary action is illegal in the United States. It is banned by the Sherman Antitrust Act and by the Taft-Hartley Act, which amends the Wagner Act of 1935.

Key Terms

  • agribusiness: Big business connected to agriculture, either owning or operating large scale farms, or catering to those who do.
  • boycott: To abstain, either as an individual or group, from using, buying, or dealing with someone or some organization as an expression of protest.
  • industrial action: In a workplace, a strike or other protest by workers.

Union Boycotts: Supporting Strikers

Union boycotts, or secondary action, is industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in another, separate enterprise.

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Union Boycotts: Also known as secondary action, is industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in another, separate enterprise.

The term “secondary action” is intended to be distinct from a trade dispute with a worker’s direct employer, and so may be used to refer to a dispute with the employer’s parent company, its suppliers, financiers, contracting parties, or any other employer in another industry.

Going on Strike: Legal Limits

In most countries there are limits on the purpose for which people can go on strike, and in many English-speaking nations restrictions have been placed on which organisations trade unions may strike against. In the U.S. and U.K., workers can typically strike against their direct employer only.

In continental Europe, secondary action is generally lawful and the right to strike is seen as a part of a broader political freedom. Secondary action is illegal in the United States. It is banned by the Sherman Antitrust Act and by the Taft-Hartley Act, which amends the Wagner Act of 1935.

Because farm laborers in the United States are not covered by the Wagner Act, the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) union has been able to legally use secondary boycotting of grocery store chains as an aid to their strikes against California agribusinesses and to their primary boycotts of California grapes, lettuce, and wine. The UFW’s secondary boycotts involved asking consumers to stop shopping at a grocery store chain until such time as the chain stopped carrying the boycotted grapes, lettuce, or wine.

Lockouts

Employers are generally motivated to prevent, mitigate the impact of, and undermine strikes when they occur by using a variety of tactics.

Learning Objectives

Explain how companies prevent and stop strikes

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • One of the weapons traditionally wielded by already established unions is strike action.
  • Unions faced with a strikebreaking situation may try to inhibit the use of strikebreakers by a variety of methods.
  • One method of inhibiting or ending a strike is firing union members who are striking, which can result in the elimination of the union, This is often referred to as union busting.
  • At the federal level President John Kennedy, a Democrat, in 1962 issued Executive Order 10988, upgrading the status of unions of federal workers.
  • In 2011 as states faced a growing fiscal crisis and the Republicans made major gains in the 2010 elections, public sector unions came under heavy attack in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio from conservative Republican legislatures.
  • Traditionally, women had been under-represented in union organizing due to the belief that “it was a woman’s ‘nature’ to be a loyal ‘office wife'” and to not show disloyalty by joining a union. As the industrial sector began to decline more attention has turned to organizing women in white-collar service jobs, or what has been called the pink-collar sector. The increased membership of women has also shed new light on gender issues, with family issues and other women’s concerns gaining more legitimacy in the work place.

Key Terms

  • Solidarity: A bond of unity between individuals, united around a common goal or against a common enemy, such as the unifying principle that defines the labor movement.
  • picket line: The boundary created by striking workers, generally at the workplace entrance, which other workers are asked not to pass.
  • strikebreaking: Activity intended to disrupt or end without an agreement a strike by workers.

Union Tactics

Methods to Deal with Strikes

Most strikes called by unions are somewhat predictable; they typically occur after the contract has expired. However, not all strikes are called by union organizations. Some strikes have been called in an effort to pressure employers to recognize unions. Other strikes may be spontaneous actions by working people. Spontaneous strikes are sometimes called “wildcat strikes;” they were the key fighting point in May 1968 in France. Most commonly, they are responses to serious (often life-threatening) safety hazards in the workplace rather than wage or hour disputes, etc.

Whatever the cause of the strike, employers are generally motivated to take measures to prevent them, mitigate the impact, or to undermine strikes when they do occur.

Strike Preparation

Companies which produce products for sale will frequently increase inventories prior to a strike. Salaried employees may be called upon to take the place of strikers, which may entail advance training. If the company has multiple locations, personnel may be redeployed to meet the needs of reduced staff.

Companies may also take out strike insurance prior to an anticipated strike, to help offset the losses which the strike would cause.

One of the weapons traditionally wielded by already-established unions is strike action. Some companies may decline entirely to negotiate with the union, and respond to the strike by hiring replacement workers. This may create a crisis situation for strikers. Do they stick to their original plan and rely upon their solidarity, or is there a chance that the strike may be lost? How long will the strike last? Will strikers’ jobs still be there if the strike fails? Are other strikers defecting from the strike? Companies that hire strikebreakers typically play upon these fears when they attempt to convince union members to abandon the strike and cross the union’s picket line.

Unions faced with a strikebreaking situation may try to inhibit the use of strikebreakers by a variety of methods, establishing picket lines where the strikebreakers enter the workplace; discouraging strike breakers from taking, or from keeping strikebreaking jobs; raising the cost of hiring strikebreakers for the company; or employing public relations tactics. Companies may respond by increasing security forces and seeking court injunctions.

Strikebreaking

Some companies negotiate with the union during a strike; other companies may see a strike as an opportunity to eliminate the union. This is sometimes accomplished by the importation of replacement workers, strikebreakers, or “scabs. ” Historically, strike breaking has often coincided with union busting. It was also called “Black legging” in the early twentieth century, during the Russian socialist movement.

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Strikebreaker: Strikebreaking tactics are often met with hostile reactions from strikers

Union Busting

One method of inhibiting or ending a strike is firing union members who are striking, which can result in elimination of the union. Although this has happened, it is rare due to laws regarding firing and ” right to strike” having a wide range of differences in the United States, depending on whether union members are public or private sector. Laws also vary country to country. In the United States, it is legal to fire striking public sector employees if the strike is illegal. Conversely in the United Kingdom, “It is important to understand that there is no right to strike in UK law.” Employees who strike risk dismissal, unless it is an official strike (one called or endorsed by their union), in which case they are protected from unlawful dismissal and cannot be fired for at least 12 weeks.

Lockouts

Another counter to a strike is a lockout, the form of work stoppage in which an employer refuses to allow employees to work. Two of the three employers involved in the Caravan park grocery workers strike of 2003-2004 locked out their employees in response to a strike against the third member of the employer bargaining group. Lockouts are, with certain exceptions, lawful under United States labor law.

Violence

Historically, some employers have attempted to break union strikes by force. One of the most famous examples of this occurred during the Homestead Strike of 1892. Industrialist Henry Clay Frick sent private security agents from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to break the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers strike at a Homestead, Pennsylvania steel mill. Two strikers were killed, 12 wounded, along with 2 Pinkertons killed and 11 wounded. In the aftermath, Frick was shot in the neck and then stabbed by Alexander Berkman, surviving the attack, while Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Trends in Labor-Management Relations

Labor-Management relations have been impacted by the decline in union participation, alongside the increase of globalization.

Learning Objectives

Understand why unions are declining, both in the United States and elsewhere, and the impact this may have on labor-management relations

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The most notable recent trend in management-labor relations is a decline in union participation.
  • Unions have declined significantly in the United States since the 1950’s, representing less than 20% of the modern day workforce.
  • Globalization and the outsourcing of many jobs, notably in manufacturing, has reduced labor union participation and created a barrier between the organization and the labor they utilize to produce.

Key Terms

  • deregulation: The act of reducing or removing legal or regulatory intervention on a specific issue.

The relationship between management and unions is complex. On the one hand, unions and management collaborate and come to agreement on how workers should be compensated, and what rights and safety measures must be observed to maintain a healthy working environment.

On the other hand, there is inherently some conflict of interest. Indeed, the foundations of unions is largely one of bringing workers together to ensure (and fight for) proper rights, compensation, and treatment by the organizations. As a result, there is some compromise involved in how unions and management negotiate.

Current Trends in Labor Unions

The most significant trend in the United States when considering labor unions is fairly simple. They are far less prevalent now than they used to be. The initial rise of labor unions in the United States occurred during the Great Depression (1930’s), which has steadily decreased over time. This decrease in labor union participation has also been seen internationally, particularly in recent years. This could be for a number of reasons, but the outcome is the same. Labor unions since the turn of the millennium only represent a small fraction of the U.S. workforce (as illustrated in the chart below).

The trends in labor unions are many, but particularly worthy of note are the impacts of globalization, decrease in manufacturing, and deregulation.

Lower union membership is an important trend in labor dynamics, reducing the conversation between organizations and unions overall.

Union Membership: Lower union membership is an important trend in labor dynamics, reducing the conversation between organizations and unions overall.

Globalization

Union labor laws are domestic, which is to say that the rights of employees are protected by the national government where they reside. As a result, globalization offers the capability for businesses to exploit areas without unions (often with lower labor costs) while diminishing the bargaining power of unions domestically (wherever that may be).

Manufacturing

It’s also worth noting that many union-oriented industries have seen some declines in the United States. Manufacturing, for example, is often outsourced. With fewer employees in union-protected industries, it’s a natural trend that unions will represent a smaller portion of the overall national workforce.

Deregulation

Finally, politics and unions are interdependent. Some economists and researchers have noted that political approaches during the 1980’s created an impact on the ability for employers to diminish the power of unions. This supposition is supported by the decline of unions alongside the propensity for illegal firings during union campaigns (see chart below).

This chart illustrates the rise of illegal firings during union elections, notably rising in the 1980's and continuing onwards from there. This is an important trend in the regulatory side of management and union relations.

Illegal Union Firings (U.S.): This chart illustrates the rise of illegal firings during union elections, notably rising in the 1980’s and continuing onwards from there. This is an important trend in the regulatory side of management and union relations.

Conclusion

All and all, management in modern times has seen a lower amount of participation in union negotiations on behalf of organizations. This is primarily reflected by lower union involvement in many industries, alongside the rise of globalization and outsourcing.