Unauthorized Strike Protected Despite No Approval by Union

Workers walked off their jobs at a bottling plant in Puerto Rico to protest the company’s change in its access policy for off-duty employees. The company responded by suspending all five of the union shop stewards. The union grieved the suspensions, but never took any action to process the grievance. Instead, the membership unanimously approved to strike.

One month later, the company terminated the five previously suspended shop stewards. The stewards held a meeting with union employees in which the employees again voted to authorize a strike in support of the union’s demands to reinstate the stewards and resume negotiations for a new union contract. No union officers were present during the meeting. The stewards faxed a report of the affirmative strike vote to the union. A strike began less than a week later.

The issue in this case was whether the strike was unauthorized given the lack of union officers present during the employees’ strike vote. The Board explained that legal protection for unauthorized strikes depends on “(1) whether the employees are attempting to bargain directly with the employer and (2) whether the employees’ position is inconsistent with the union’s position.” The Board concluded that there was no evidence that the employees’ strike was inconsistent with the union’s position because the union did nothing to dissuade the employees from launching their strike. The Board found that the strike was protected. In contrast, the dissent argued that the second strike vote was authorized by a dissident group that intended to divide the union.

A lack of communication between the union and its members can lead to a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. However, here, the Board interpreted the facts in favor of the union and declined to find any such violation.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.

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