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How Do Labor Strikes End?

Q: What is a labor strike?
A:
 A strike occurs when employees, in a group, either walk off the job or determine that they will not show up to work as a way to protest something that happened or is happening at their workplace.  Typically, strikes involve a picket line where employees walk in front of the workplace with signs indicating why they are striking.

Q: What are the different ways a labor strike can end?
A: 
There are several ways a strike can end.  One way involves a negotiated termination of the strike.  A strike also may end when the union gives an “unconditional offer to return.”  Even if a union does not officially end a strike, individual employees can stop striking and decide to return to work.  Finally, an employer’s action to close or sell the business during a strike usually ends the strike.

Q: What is included in a negotiated termination of a strike?
A: 
Common clauses in a strike settlement agreement state: whether the employees will return to their specific job; whether employees will return to their previous shifts; on what day the employees will report back to work; and whether the employees will retain any of the seniority or benefits that they had before going out on strike. 

Q: What is an unconditional offer to return?
A:
 A union gives an unconditional offer to return by writing a letter to the employer indicating that the union plans on ending the strike and requesting that the employees be returned to their former positions.  Such union offers are given for several reasons, but mostly after either the issue that prompted the strike has been resolved, or the striking employees have voted to return to work.

Q: How can individual employees stop striking and return to work?
A:
 An employee who no longer wants to strike can resign from the union, cross the picket line, and return to work.  Some employees return to work without ever honoring the strike.  Other employees return after a period of time in order to receive their paychecks, health care coverage, and other benefits.  Employees who cross a picket line and return to work on an individual basis are giving affirmative notice that they no longer want to be union members; however, they do not have to resign from the union in order to cross the picket line.  To officially withdraw from the union, employees must sign a “withdraw” card.  Until the card is signed, employees must continue to pay union dues.   Whether or not employees resign from the union, they may face union-imposed fines for crossing a picket line. 

Q: How does a strike end when the business is closed or sold?
A:
 Employers are free to close their business at any time so long as they do not reopen similar businesses.  Likewise, if an employer sells the business, the purchaser is not obligated to recognize the union or the strikers if the sale was structured in a certain way.  However, once the business has changed hands, the new employer must comply with a lawful strike in the same manner that the previous employer did.

3/8/2010

This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA).  It was prepared by Matthew Austin, an attorney with the Columbus office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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