What Is It?
When I say “grievance-strike” I am talking about work-stoppages that are initiated by a group of employees in response to an unfair labor practice (ULP) committed by management or, when working under “normal” times i.e. with a contract, a group of employees addressing a grievance with their immediate supervisor. This may be also be known by a more “legalese” term: partial strike.
When bargaining without a contract, most managers can’t take too much mobilization without their feelings getting hurt. Then, some start to snap and begin committing a few unfair labor practices (ULP’s) here and there. This happens especially when the “WTF” and “FU” buttons start popping up, since discipline or even the threat of discipline for showing union support is unlawful and a ULP. (Prem Techs read here for your button issues.)
Work-stoppages can often be the fastest way to resolve workplace issues with your manager. Disclaimer: There is always risk in asserting your rights to the powerful; but, much less risk when you act together! Management called the below a work-stoppage and threatened to fire the guy who started it, but that was bluster and nobody was disciplined. Best of all, a serious concern of the work-group was very quickly addressed, by the work-group, unlike in the usual drawn-out grievance process where both sides have to get “legalistic.” Indeed, local management will do just about anything not to be the reason for a grievance-strike; it’s bad for their careers.
The events below are from 2008, but they portray the way these things usually kick off. One big difference between then and now, is that then we were operating under the “No Strike” clause in our contract, with greater chance for retaliation by the Company. All the elements of protected concerted activity are contained in the below example.
One morning in our technician bull-room (meeting area), two managers walked in with three strangers and announced that the three strangers were a) time-study contractors and, b) they would be riding with various employees selected by management. Then the manager selected the only females out of dozens of technicians to be the “victims” who would be required to ride with the contractors all day. I objected.
At the time, I knew something was wrong with the way things were going down, but wasn’t sure what. I was an appointed steward who dealt quite a bit with management, but did not interact in “higher” grievance matters. But, I knew that this much change in the work-place is supposed to be discussed with the Local union. Since, I hadn’t heard anything from Local leadership, I asked the boss if our Local president had been informed of this. He answered, “I assume so..” but, that was not good enough. I believed our rights were about to be violated.
I took the first step: Object early and often and inform management of the group-grievance. In this instance I did this by jumping to my feet and saying, “You can’t make us ride with filthy contractors without letting our Local president know (article 1, exclusive bargaining agent)! The Union doesn’t even know who these clowns are (article 28, safety)! Nobody dispatch yet, this is bullshit (article 4, respectful relationship)!” I then looked around at my coworkers and pointed at one, “Call Alpine [garage] and, if this BS is happening there, tell them to hold up [from dispatching] until they hear from the union.”
Critically, every single technician stood (or sat) shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity (thank goodness!). Now, less than ten minutes into the morning shift, every installation and repair technician in a small Midwestern city was refusing to dispatch and get in their trucks. All thanks to management’s unilateral change in terms in conditions of employment without notifying the union.
During the next part, dealing with management, things can become tense. It’s important to keep reminding yourself and your coworkers that you have rights – management often just wants to bully you into not using them. So, about ten minutes after work started I found myself in a somewhat hectic spot while everybody tried to contact their leadership on both sides. Unfortunately, management found theirs first and I was soon on the phone with my third-level supervisor, B****. Fortunately, I was not alone and had another steward with me (never speak to management alone!) and we were both ushered into the first-level supervisors’ office. There were about three or four in there and they seemed both nervous and a little excited at my impending doom. Here’s my best recollection of that speaker-phone call with my third-level as he drove the 50-mile trip to my garage to (I later learned), “..fire that fucking Hooker’s ass..”
First-level supervisor un-mutes speaker-phone: “Thanks for holding, B****, I have Hooker and C****** here.”
B****: “Hooker, are you there?”
Hooker: “Good morning, B-“
B****: “You fucking cowards think you can embarrass m-!”
C******: “Now, B****, there’s no need to bring the conversation to that level. The Union -“
Hooker: “B****, I don’t think the COBC allows you to speak to us that way. Let’s talk later after you’ve cooled down.”
Hooker hangs up.
I told the now very pale first-level that I would be outside having a smoke while we all waited for more instruction. On my way out, I noticed all technicians were still waiting to dispatch and I also noticed that management knew nobody would dispatch until there was resolution. Four cigarettes later, I saw all three filthy contractors drive off the property and a boss came out and told me and my Chief Steward to go back to work and that B**** and the Local president would be hashing things out later. Whatever you want to call it, grievance-strike or partial strike or group-grievance, the employees had won it and none had received discipline.
Resolution of the Grievance
Later that day, the union and management ironed out their differences, and I was present for some of that meeting. The part I saw was a spirited meeting where I learned that my first name was likely forever changed in management’s mind to something beginning with “F”. I do recall I was called a communist and a hope was expressed that I would someday be shot while espousing my pinko union BS since I would no doubt be waving a red flag during the revolution. I was not disciplined.
Once I left the meeting, labor peace prevailed but negotiation needed to still happen. The Company wanted to put the time-study contractors in the trucks; the Union needed to address the membership’s concerns. Ultimately, it was ironed out the best way: Everybody was equally unhappy.
- Contractors would only ride with volunteers; employees could not be compelled to accept them except by inverse seniority
- Employees could not be compelled to speak to contractors and could drop them off at anytime the contractor was creepy
- Contractors could not wear Company apparel or identify as Company employees (most were retired managers who retained the clothing)
- Most importantly, the union had its say in the terms and conditions of employment for its members
This agreement was announced the following morning in each garage where contractors were being located. It was also read to all contractors – by me – prior to shift start. At that meeting, a contractor complained that they would not be paid by their employer for the day the union caused them to be sent away by management. I believe that was the first time I ever smiled in a filthy contractor’s presence.
How was this protected concerted activity?
This work-stoppage was protected because:
- It was on behalf of fellow employees and our contractual rights (a group grievance article 12.13), which benefits all employees. Pro tip: Use words like “mutual aid or protection” when discussing strikes/stoppages with management. Quote the contract where relevant
- The issue was not a “gripe”; it was related to terms and conditions of employment i.e. safety, discipline, new work-rules, contractors etc.
- No malicious behavior e.g. interfering with other workers not affected by strike; blocking employer entrances, etc.
- Did not leave property; returned to work when issue resolved
- Great employee participation moved management to quickly solve the issue
- Management was surprised; this helped
- Though a “No-Strike” clause was in place, the union presented this as a group-grievance as allowed in the contract and Section 9(a) of the NLRA
Your first resource is each other, your union. If you love the legalese stuff and like to throw four-dollar words at management along with the rare four-letter word, here is some stewardy-stuff to check out:
- Clear language, with examples for unionized and non-unionized employees, about your rights to engage in protected concerted activity
- Can you get 95% for one hour? – Striking Over Grievances When the Contract’s Up
- This NLRB case contains the ten factors of protected work-stoppage – Quietflex Manufacturing Co. and NLRB Advice Memo
- Give this sample brief to your Local attorney if management gets a little sideways – Model Brief Regarding Intermittent and Partial Strikes (Good luck! May need to be revised with the new “Trump” Board)
Be brave. Asserting your rights to belligerent employers is scary, but needs to be done. Did you notice that this partial strike took place in 2008, when the “No-Strike” clause was still in effect?