strike protocol
July 15, 2008 11:46 AM   Subscribe

My co-workers are on strike. Should I go to work?

I work at a state university. My co-workers are on strike. I'm in a different union than the workers that are on strike. In the years I've worked for the university I've never heard a peep from my union so I don't think that they're an organization I'll look to for guidance.

I'm not sure if going to work is crossing a picket line. I'm not even sure whether the striking union intends the picket to discourage other workers from coming to work. We work for the state so actions are designed to influence the political process more than they're designed to inflict economic pain. The strike is time-limited. If the union intended for the strike to have any bite they would have chosen a different time of year.

So am I crossing a picket line if I go to work? What was the protocol for something like this back when unions were strong? I know that the Teamsters would sometimes refuse to deliver to struck companies but that was a decision taken by the union rather than an individual worker.
Just to be clear I'm not asking about whether I should cross a picket line. If there a clear picket line in a traditional strike, there's no way I would cross it.
You can use for follow-ups.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your union is not on strike, you are not on strike, therefore you go to work.

I work in a large enterprise with different unions. When other unions go on strike, we don't take the day off; we go to work.

The picket line may decide to delay you. Sometimes there are laws against doing that, or limiting the amount of time they can. You really should inform yourself and talk to your union.
posted by splice at 11:51 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Check with your union for guidance. For real.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:52 AM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

If it's not your union, then you're not crossing a picket line. If your union calls for a sympathy strike, then it'd be appropriate. You shouldn't feel bad about going to work if it's not your union.
posted by electroboy at 11:54 AM on July 15, 2008

I was in a similar situation a year back, and I felt that the best thing for me to do was to not go to work to show my solidarity. If you're unsure about making the decision to officially "strike" but don't want to cross a picket line either, maybe you could just develop a "cough" this afternoon and call out sick tomorrow?

It seems like if you did go to work and were treated like you crossed a picket line, you would regret it. What's one day out of work?
posted by lunit at 11:55 AM on July 15, 2008

Seriously, the only useful answer comes from your own union. I'd say they're not too concerned about it if they haven't already given you instructions. If you don't want to bother talking to them, I'd say do what you want and if anyone has a problem with it, say "[my union] didn't tell me anything."
posted by winston at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2008

So am I crossing a picket line if I go to work?

No. It's not your union.

Are you influenced by their plight? Do you care? Unless you feel passionate, and by passionate you're willing to lose your job for the cause, go to work. Because union or no union you can't just not go to work.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2008

If you want to support the strikers, ask them what they would like you to do. You should simply contact their union office by phone or email and tell them you work at the same institution, you're supportive, you're a member of such-and-such a union, and you'd like to know what the best thing to do is. They may very well tell you to go ahead and go to work.

When I was part of a striking union in a similar situation, we didn't expect all the other union workers in other unions to stay home, but we sure did appreciate it when they showed their support by joining us on the picket lines (even for a few minutes) or by saying hello, or by wearing their union T-shirts on the days we were striking, and especially by the fact that they never physically crossed our picket line.
posted by agent99 at 12:17 PM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the protocol was that you'd get your skull bashed in.

I don't see how a flippant answer like that helps anyone, but for the record, historically strikers were more likely to get their skulls bashed in than the other way around.

Be that as it may, the protocol has varied and varies depending on what the striking union is trying to achieve. Asking all other unions to stay out is a pretty major escalation (not to mention that it's not easy to bring about in most situations). So, again, your best bet is to ask.
posted by agent99 at 12:23 PM on July 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

Yes you are crossing a picket line if you cross a picket line! It may or may not be appropriate to do so. You need to find out if your union is supporting this strike and if they are recommending that you not cross the line. If your union says it is okay, then it is okay. However, it is basic to the concept of unions to stand in solidarity. If you believe in unions you should NEVER cross a union picket line, whether you know/approve of the reason for the strike or not. agent99 has the best solution-- if you have to cross it then cross it, but show up when you're not at work and join their demonstration and make every effort not to cross the line (use another entrance come early, leave late, whatever).

To take this in another direction, if a union (whether your union or a different one), is picketing a retail store or other business Do. Not. Patronize. That. Business. until the strike is resolved. Find a different place to shop. I learned from early in my life that crossing a picket line just to shop is just about the worst thing you can do. This is especially important to members of unions. Striking union members are your brothers and sisters and deserve your support.
posted by nax at 12:30 PM on July 15, 2008 [8 favorites]

Yes, you are crossing the picket line by going to work, whether or not there is a physical picket line. The striking union might or might not really care. It depends if their strategy includes discouraging others from associating with the university or not. Generally though, I'd think they'd take any help they can get.

By not going to work, you are clearly delivering the message that although you are not a member of the striking union, you agree with them on the matter, or wish to generally help the strength of their union, and so you refuse aid their employer by going to work.

By going to work, some would say that you are giving the opposite message, that you disagree with the union, and agree with the employer. But I would say that you're really just giving the message that you would prefer not to give up your pay, agree or disagree with the union. Of course others would counter by saying that by going to work, you're ultimately making your own union's position weaker as well, by not helping out unions in general.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:30 PM on July 15, 2008

I work at a state university. My co-workers are on strike. I'm in a different union than the workers that are on strike.

It depends a lot on how the other union is behaving. You should report to work. If the striking union has formed a picket line to deny access, then crossing a picket would be strike-breaking. The only class who can cross a line are the managers. You, yourself, would not be on strike, but would be respecting the picket line. You will not get paid if you honour a picket line (but your union may have strike pay---check with them).

If there is no picket line, or if the line is informational---they're not blocking access---then you should report to work as normal.

In the real world, how you actually behave is a matter of conscience. Particularly in university settings, unions can be so weak, and the campus so large that blocking access isn't possible. The other union may request that their sister and brother unionists respect their strike---that means they want you to not report to work even though they cannot physically block access to the worksite. For that, you'll need to check with your union rep. Whether you respect their request or not is a decision you'll need to make. Your supervisors may not like it if you do and your coworkers may not like you if you don't.

Strikes often force an ethical choice on other workers: do you respect your coworkers wishes, or do you side with management?
posted by bonehead at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2008

agent99, you're right. I shouldn't have typed that out.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:42 PM on July 15, 2008

Keep in mind that you can be fired for participating in a strike that your union hasn't sanctioned. And calling in sick doesn't help anyone, except to possibly assuage your guilt.
posted by electroboy at 12:47 PM on July 15, 2008

There might not be a picket line, even if they're asking people to support their strike. One union went on strike at my graduate school, and the school's lawyers made sure they weren't able to have a picket line (as we know it).

You could contact the striking union and ask them their opinion.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:02 PM on July 15, 2008

I've been in similar circumstances twice at the U of MN — one local branch of AFSCME voted to strike, and another did not. Employees of the University (and hence, the state) had explicit conditions in their contract; we were only permitted to participate in strikes authorized by the membership of our own branch of our own union. In other words, failing to cross the picket lines was a fireable offense. (Tenured faculty were, of course, another story.) Union contractors generally refused to work on construction or make deliveries on campus.

In practice, what generally happened was that the folks on strike picketed, everybody else went to work as normal (while wearing "I support U of M workers!" buttons and sticking clearly to our own defined duties, as opposed to doing the strikers' jobs). I brought coffee and bagels to the folks on the picket lines, and marched with them during lunch breaks and such. If anybody on the lines gave shit to anybody who wasn't striking, I never heard about it.
posted by nicepersonality at 1:12 PM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

As had been said: you need to call your own union rep. Unions usually have a "you watch my back and I'll watch yours" mentality.

It seems a little odd that your union would not have set up a phone tree to contact their members about how to proceed.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 1:30 PM on July 15, 2008

Why has your union NOT made some kind of rule/pact/agreement on this?

Back when unions were effective (and the way they are effective in Europe), is that if one union struck, others would strike in SYMPATHY...aka "sympathy strikes".

What would I do...I would NEVER EVER EVER cross a picket line.

"I've never heard a peep from my union so I don't think that they're an organization I'll look to for guidance."

I'm guessing your union has never heard a peep from you. Maybe this was decided upon during your monthly union meeting, but since you don't participate, you don't know.

Talk to your union and get involved. Don't talk about the union as if its some 3rd person. Its in the 2nd in "you and others". If you don't do anything, how can you expect others to do something.

Ask not what your union can do for you, ask what you can do for your union.


Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:33 PM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, nthing "call your union steward before you do anything."

Are there other members of your union on campus? How are they responding to the situation?
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:35 PM on July 15, 2008

I grew up in a very union town. If you couldn't bear the risk of not going to work, the protocol was to ask for permission to cross every time. If you do this, I recommend choosing someone you know and who is very likely to say yes, because hard core people will say no.
posted by acoutu at 1:36 PM on July 15, 2008

If your union is giving you no guidance, then it seems to me that your only option is to go to work and do your job. You are not on strike, and if you are questioning based on "protocol" then it's obviously not a matter of feeling a great affinity for the other union.

My personal opinion is that if you've "never heard a peep from" your union, your loyalty would be better directed at your employer, who is paying you for your work, rather than the union that is taking your money and giving you nothing in return.
posted by Morydd at 1:45 PM on July 15, 2008

You really need to talk to your Union, or if they aren't responsive, talk to the folks at the Union that is picketing...your actions (or lack of them) may be more help than you know. If it isn't your own Union picketing then you going in and doing your regular job might be the most helpful thing to the striking group. We I was on strike as an RN we sure didn't want nurses crossing our line, but we wanted the hospital to keep trying to work and stay open...without us. That put the pressure on management, and showed how important we were to the system. And it worked. The fact that they still had to pay all the other staff made them keep the place open...and that put pressure on them too. Plus they were our eyes and ears as to what was going on inside. So everybody (except the nurses) going in and doing their jobs helped us win in a big way.

And it's always good form to bring the strikers some goodies. ;-)
posted by what-i-found at 2:04 PM on July 15, 2008

I'm assuming that this is the AFSCME strike at University of California medical centers.

If there a clear picket line in a traditional strike, there's no way I would cross it.

This is a real economic strike. But the whole point of strikes and job actions is that by acting collectively, workers have power. So rather than contemplating what you can do as a solitary individual, you might want to talk to your coworkers, and particularly your union reps, about how to organize solidarity actions involving you and others.

I would contact UPTE (which seems to be your union) to find out what solidarity actions they may already have planned, but I would assume that, if there were major coordination between AFSCME and UPTE you would have heard something from your UPTE rep.
posted by univac at 2:23 PM on July 15, 2008

Neither UPTE (linked above) nor CUE have anything about the strike on their respective sites.

AFSCME Local 3299 does not appear to mention anything about other unions honoring the strike.
posted by mogget at 2:40 PM on July 15, 2008

My 18-year-old brother, winner of a Longshoreman's scholarship for an essay on Harry Bridges and union history, is on his way up to UCSC for orientation this morning. It sucks that his first day on campus may require him to cross a picket line, but the alternative is missing placement exams for his summer school classes. Welcome to the adult world of compromise.

And anonymous, if you are a by chance a UC worker and happen to see some kids dumped off a bus on the edge of campus, please stop and tell them how to get to their college. This will be tough on the newcomers.
posted by Scram at 2:35 AM on July 16, 2008

follow-up from the OP
Thanks to everyone who responded. This question was about UC strike.

I contacted the striking union and my union and I was advised to go to work. I decided to go to work. When I first found out that my co-workers were striking I thought that I would just use up some of banked sick days but as electroboy pointed calling in sick would be pretty pointless. If I had called my supervisor and told her I was not coming to work because I would not cross a picket line it seems likely that two things would have happened. I would have been disciplined and possibly fired. My union could not have helped me and I believe, although no one explicitly told me, that it would have caused a very short-lived headache for my union.
posted by jessamyn at 11:16 AM on July 17, 2008

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