Unions Strike While the Weather’s Hot

My clients like to tell me that their employees will never go on strike. No matter how contentious negotiations get, or how angered their workers become, their people will never engage in the ultimate act of solidarity. And for the most part, my clients are right. However, just because they’re right, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t prepare for a strike or be aware of strikes at other companies in their industries.

Strike activity generally peaks during warm months and declines during the winter, so we are in the height of strike season now. Two industries where many of my clients exist – grocery and ambulance – are making strike news this summer. Another industry where I do not (yet) have clients is also worth mentioning. Regardless of industry, these laws and tips apply to most companies in most industries.

Ambulance Industry Striking for Higher Wages

Gold Cross Ambulance workers in California who are represented by the Teamsters went on strike in an effort to increase starting salaries – currently set around $9.00 per hour. This is just one of the many strikes around the country by workers seeking to increase their wages. You have probably heard about strikes in the non-union fast food industry, too. While employees can strike for higher wages and solicit public support for their plight, workers’ wages must be negotiated at the bargaining table and companies are under no obligation to increase wages during bargaining.

Grocer to Close if Workers Strike

The UFCW has threatened to strike Ralphs and Albertsons over what it considers measly health insurance contributions. Under the most recent management offer, workers would pay $36/month for individual health insurance and $92/month for family coverage. I bet you pay more than that. Ralphs will temporarily close all Southern California stores and Albertsons will shut down 100 stores if grocery workers strike. This drastic action is not necessarily a bad business move – especially since the 141 day strike of 2003-2004 cost the company over $1.5 billion. The chain may have difficulty proving to the NLRB that shuttering the stores was not in retaliation for workers going on strike, though.

Funeral Company Goes On Offensive Against Striking Teamsters

A temporary restraining order seeking to quash horrific activity by striking Chicago Teamsters employed as funeral directors and drivers of 16 different funeral homes was granted. These workers went on strike because their employer wanted to end its involvement in the notoriously underfunded Teamster Pension Fund and instead provide 401k retirement benefits to the workers. Angry with this suggestion, the workers went on strike and engaged in the following abhorrent behavior:

  • Laughed, joked, and created a disturbance at the only public entrance to the funeral of a young child who passed away from cancer;
  • Unleashed a German Shepherd and intimidated a woman and her father who were planning a funeral for her recently deceased mother;
  • Shouted sexually explicit taunts at a woman in front of her toddler children while she made funeral arrangements for her grandmother;
  • Blocked a grieving widow’s vehicle as she tried to exit the parking lot;
  • Used the siren function of a bullhorn, compressed air horn, and shouted to disturb funeral services.

While these examples may seem extreme, they’re not. Obviously they are real and can happen to any company. I encourage you to become familiar with some of the laws surrounding strikes and picketing so if (hopefully not when) you find your company in a similar situation you will have a better understanding of how to react. My website or my two-part series on picketing is a good place to start, and of course, if you have any questions you are always welcomed call me.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can always call Matt at 614.843.3041 or email him at Austin@LaborEmploymentOSHA.com