Strike! Part 1: The Major Differences and Why It May Be Needed

There are two classes of legal strikes: economic strikes and unfair labor practices (ULP).

  • Economic Strikes occur when workers wish to obtain economic concessions such as higher wages, shorter hours, or better working conditions. People will remain employees but can be replaced with other people and the employer is not required to reinstate you at the end of the strike. The company can choose to keep the replacement people instead.
    • Examples of economic strikes may include rising health care premiums while keeping wages low or working long hours while short-staffed.


  • Unfair labor practice strikes occur when an employer violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Strikers cannot be fired or permanently replaced if the union submits an unconditional offer to return to work. If the employer delays or refuses, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) can order the company to rehire the strikers and reimburse them for back wages from the time the reinstatement should have taken place.
    • Examples may include a supervisor retaliating against an employee because the employee filed a grievance, or a supervisor refusing to call for a union rep when asked to do so if the employee fears disciplinary action.


Keep in mind that an economic strike can “convert” to an ULP strike if the employer commits an NLRA violation during the walkout that hinders bargaining or compels workers to cross the line because they were promised something in return, such as a bonus or promotion.