Bargaining Impasses: Strikes, Lockouts & Other Consequences

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

In union negotiations, bargaining impasses occur when the union and employer cannot reach an agreement. Define collective bargaining, and learn about union tactics to respond to bargaining impasses, including strikes, boycotts, picketing, and employer tactics, including strikebreaking and lockouts, and recognize which tactics are illegal. Updated: 10/03/2021

Collective Bargaining Defined

Gayle works for a large auto manufacturing plant in the Upper Midwest. One of her jobs is to negotiate with the union at the company. Brian was elected by the members of the union to negotiate on its members' behalf. Several years ago, Gayle and Brian had a relatively easy time hammering out a collective bargaining agreement, which addresses workers' wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of work.

Gayle and Brian are having a much more difficult time coming to a collective bargaining agreement this time. In fact, no progress has been made. Both sides are unwilling to compromise. The union wants higher wage increases and better insurance coverage than the company is willing to accept. After the last fruitless negotiation session, they both go back to their offices to decide whether to start playing hardball. Let's take a look at some of the tactics at their disposal.

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  • 0:02 Collective Bargaining Defined
  • 0:56 Strikes, Boycotts & Picketing
  • 4:18 Strikebreaking & Lockouts
  • 5:05 Illegal Tactics
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Union Tactics - Strikes, Boycotts and Picketing

Brian has several options to apply pressure on the company to make concessions at the negotiating table. Brian can have the union workers go out on strike. A strike occurs when workers stop work in order to pressure the company to make a bargaining concession. The idea is to hurt the company where it counts - in the company coffers. Stopping work costs money because the company will still have overhead and fixed expenses. It also often results in loss of profits.

Strikes come in two general flavors: economic strikes and unfair labor practice strikes. An economic strike is about trying to win some economic benefit for employees, such as a raise in wages. An unfair labor practice strike is a strike undertaken when an employer has violated a labor relations law.

Brian must be careful to ensure that if he decides to call for a strike, it's permitted under the law. Sometimes the law will require that the union and employer undergo a cooling off period before striking is permitted. Sometimes the current collective bargaining agreement will have a no-strike clause where the union previously agreed not to use the tactic. In some circumstances, it may be flat out illegal to strike. For example, most public sector strikes are illegal.

Brian must weigh the strike option carefully. Contrary to what some believe, workers are not entitled to pay when on strike. Additionally, they are not even entitled to unemployment compensation unless state law specifically provides for it. You can think of striking as a game of chicken where the strikers are hoping that the employer will blink out of fear of financial disaster before they do.

Once the strike is over, the drama may not be over for the workers. In an economic strike, an employer does not have to immediately reinstate the strikers after the dispute is resolved. While they are still considered employees, the employer can make them wait for reinstatement until a vacancy opens up. There may be no vacancies due to a reduction in demand or employment of replacement workers during a strike. However, in an unfair labor practice strike, the striking employees must be reinstated by the company if they agree to unconditionally return to work. This is the case even if it means firing replacement workers to make room.

Brian can also consider a boycott. When employees conduct a labor boycott, they are trying to stop, or at least reduce, the company's customers from purchasing its goods or services as a sign of support for the employees. For example, employees may try to convince customers not to purchase the model of vehicles produced at their plant. The idea is that the threat of loss of revenue will pressure the company to make concessions.

Brian can also use picketing as a supplemental tactic. Picketing occurs when a group of employees gather outside the company to make the public aware of a strike or boycott. The idea is to try to create public awareness and support for the union's position.

Employer Tactics - Strikebreaking and Lockouts

Gayle is not without hardball tactics of her own. If the union strikes, she can engage in strikebreaking, which is an attempt by a company to disrupt or end a strike undertaken by employees without reaching an agreement with them. For example, Gayle can hire workers to replace the union workers during the strike called strikebreakers, often derogatorily referred to as 'scabs.'

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