Locking Out Workers: A Landmine of Legalities

A swimming pool cleaning supply manufacturer was negotiating a successor collective bargaining agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. After the Union rejected several healthcare plan proposals made by the Company, the Company said it wanted to freeze the current contract for one year, but also said it expected to have information on more plan options to propose. The Company said it wanted everything to stay the same for a year and requested that the Union have the employees vote on the Company’s offer. Union officials were unclear as to what the employees were voting on. Two days later the Company locked out the employees.

The Company violated the National Labor Relations Act by locking out its employees without providing the employees with a timely, clear, and complete offer setting forth the conditions necessary to avoid the lockout. The Company made a clear, complete proposal one week later, but that did not cure the unlawful lockout. The lockout remained unlawful until it ended and the employees were made whole.

The decision to lock out employees is one no company should make hastily. Locking out workers is a legitimate bargaining tactic used by many companies during negotiations – just as strikes are strategically used by unions. However, detailed planning, with experienced labor counsel, must be taken before implementing a lock out or risk losing any positional strength that might be gained by utilizing it as a bargaining tactic.

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.