HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Labor Strike
Do you know how to balance the best interests of your company and your employees? When labor strikes strike, the responsibility falls on you to walk that tightrope. Learn preventative measures and tangible action steps to take in the face of work stoppage.

What Is a Labor Strike?

A labor strike, also known as a work stoppage, is a collective action taken by employees to protest against their employers—usually to demand better wages, benefits, or working conditions. During a strike, workers refuse to work until their demands are met or until they reach a settlement with their employers. Strikes can be initiated by individual workers or labor unions on behalf of their members. They can take many forms, including sit-ins, picket lines, and work slowdowns. The purpose of a strike is to exert economic pressure on the employer by disrupting production, reducing revenue, and increasing the cost of operations. Strikes can be legal or illegal, depending on the circumstances. Legal strikes are typically protected by labor laws and may be conducted in accordance with specific rules and procedures. Illegal strikes, on the other hand, may violate labor laws, contracts, or court orders, and can result in disciplinary actions or legal consequences for the strikers. Strikes can be a powerful tool for workers to achieve their goals and advocate for their rights. However, they can also be costly and disruptive for both workers and employers, and can have lasting effects on labor relations and industry practices.

History of Labor Strikes

The history of labor strikes dates back centuries, but they gained prominence during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first recorded strike in the United States occurred in 1768, when New York journeymen tailors protested a wage reduction. However, the modern labor movement began in the 19th century when workers began to organize into trade unions to protect their rights. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, strikes were a common tool used by workers to improve working conditions, wages, and benefits. Strikes during this period were often met with violence and repression by employers and the government. One of the most famous incidents was the Haymarket Riot in 1886, which led to the execution of several labor leaders. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, strikes increased dramatically as workers demanded fair wages and better working conditions. This period also saw the passage of several key labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protected workers' right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. The 1940s and 1950s saw a decline in strike activity due to wartime restrictions and the anti-communist fervor of the McCarthy era. However, the 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence in strikes, particularly in the public sector, as workers demanded better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Since the 1980s, strike activity has declined significantly in the United States due to the rise of globalization and the decline of unions up until 2022. “Approximately 224,000 workers were involved in the work stoppages last year (2022), up from 140,000 in 2021—a 60 percent increase,” SHRM states in this article. “There were 4,447,588 strike days, a number measured by the duration of a strike multiplied by the approximate number of workers on strike. Industries where strikes were most likely to occur were education services, health care and social assistance, manufacturing, retail trade, and information, according to the ILR.”

Causes and Effects of Labor Strikes

Labor strikes are a form of collective action taken by workers to put pressure on employers to meet their demands. There are a variety of reasons why workers might choose to strike, and there are also several potential consequences of labor strikes.

Causes of Labor Strikes

Ultimately, the causes of strikes can be summed up as unhappy employees taking desperate measures to push for change. Some of these reasons include:
  • Low wages and/or inadequate benefits. Workers may strike to demand higher wages or better benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, or paid time off.
  • Unsafe or unhealthy working conditions. Workers may strike if they feel that their safety or health is jeopardized by the conditions of their workplace.
  • Contract disputes. Strikes may occur if workers and employers are unable to reach an agreement on the terms of a new contract.
  • Discrimination or harassment. Strikes may be used to protest perceived discrimination or harassment in the workplace, such as unequal pay or biased treatment.
  • Anti-union policies. Some workers may strike to protest policies or actions taken by employers to discourage or prevent unionization.

Effects of Labor Strikes

Any lack of workers can have detrimental effects on the operations of a company. A labor strike is no exception. Some of the most major effects of work stoppages are:
  • Financial losses. Both workers and employers can suffer financial losses as a result of a strike. Workers may lose wages for the duration of the strike while employers may lose revenue or have to pay for replacement workers.
  • Disruptions to production or services. Strikes can disrupt production or services, causing delays or cancellations that affect customers or clients.
  • Increased bargaining power for workers. Strikes can give workers more bargaining power as they demonstrate their willingness to take action to achieve their demands.
  • Negative impact on public perception. Strikes can lead to negative publicity for both workers and employers, potentially damaging their reputation and relationships with stakeholders.
  • Resolution of issues. In some cases, strikes can lead to a resolution of the issues that prompted them, as employers may agree to meet workers' demands in order to end the strike.

Strategies for Preventing Labor Strikes

Preventing labor strikes is important for both employers and employees, as strikes can be costly and damaging for all parties involved. To avoid work stoppages, employers can take proactive measures and adopt strategies to foster positive relationships with their employees and address their concerns. In this list, we discuss some effective strategies for preventing labor strikes.

Foster Transparency

Employers who intentionally build open communication into their organization’s culture create a space where employees feel safe to communicate points of dissatisfaction. The ability to address any grievances without reproach enables employees and employers to work together to find solutions before issues escalate to the point of a strike.

Keep Employees in Mind

Employers can foster a positive workplace culture by offering fair wages, benefits, and working conditions, as well as providing opportunities for employee feedback and engagement.

Collective Bargaining

When a union is involved, employers can engage in collective bargaining negotiations to come to an agreement on wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Mediation and Arbitration

Employers can seek the assistance of a neutral third-party mediator to facilitate negotiations between the company and the workers or union representatives. Additionally, arbitration can be an effective way to settle disputes.

Strike Contingency Plans

Employers can develop and implement strike contingency plans that outline the steps to be taken in the event of a strike, such as hiring temporary workers, stockpiling inventory, and implementing new safety measures.

How to Manage and Resolve Labor Strikes

Managing and resolving labor strikes can feel like a daunting task. It can be a high-stress balancing act of protecting the best interests of the organization while addressing workers' concerns with empathy. With a plan, it is possible to navigate the situation successfully. Each situation that leads up to work stoppage is unique, however. Here is a mock plan to give a general framework of what steps to take in the middle of a labor strike.

Step 1: Open Communication

Open and honest communication is key to resolving a labor strike. Offer to meet with workers to listen to their concerns and grievances. Be empathetic, respectful, and honest. This will help to build trust and promote a positive relationship with workers.

Step 2: Keep Operations Running

While the strike is ongoing, keep the business running as smoothly as possible. This may involve hiring temporary workers, redistributing work among non-striking workers, or modifying production schedules.

Step 3: Negotiate With Workers or Representatives

Once the offer to meet is accepted, set up a meeting. If the strike doesn't involve a union, meet with the workers or their representatives to negotiate a resolution. It's essential to approach negotiations in a spirit of compromise and seek a mutually beneficial outcome. Be prepared to make concessions and offer solutions to issues raised by workers.

Step 4: Consider Mediation or Arbitration

If negotiations fail, consider seeking mediation or arbitration. Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps the parties reach an agreement, while arbitration involves a neutral third party who makes a binding decision. Both can help to resolve the labor dispute and put an end to a labor strike.

Step 5: Keep the Public Informed

Inform the public of the situation and how the company is responding to the labor strike. Provide regular updates through press releases, social media, or other communication channels.
Ensure that the company remains within legal limits during the strike. Be aware of labor laws, collective bargaining agreements, and other regulations that apply to your industry.

Step 7: Evaluate and Improve

After the strike has ended, evaluate the situation to identify areas where improvements can be made. Consider implementing changes to prevent future labor disputes or improve the company's relationship with workers.

Examples of Successful Labor Strike Resolutions

Labor strikes are typically associated with negative consequences for businesses, but there have been instances where strikes have been beneficial for both employees and the company. These successful strikes have resulted in better working conditions, increased wages, and improved benefits for workers. Additionally, they have also led to increased productivity and profitability for companies, as satisfied and motivated employees tend to perform better. Here are a few examples.

United Farm Workers Grape Strike

In the 1960s, the United Farm Workers (UFW) led a strike against California grape growers to protest low wages and poor working conditions for farm workers. The strike lasted five years, but eventually the UFW succeeded in convincing the growers to sign contracts that granted better pay, benefits, and job security to workers.

West Coast Port Strike

In 2014, workers at several West Coast ports went on strike, causing a slowdown in cargo movement and significant economic losses. After several months of negotiations, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) reached an agreement with the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents port employers. The agreement included wage increases and improvements in safety standards and job security for workers.

Verizon Strike

In 2016, about 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike to protest the company's outsourcing practices and job security concerns. After a 45-day strike, Verizon reached an agreement with the Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The agreement included a wage increase, improved benefits, and job security measures for workers, as well as limits on outsourcing.
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Kayla Farber

Kayla Farber

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.
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