Back in the day, before Darth Vader saw the light at the end of the movie and when strikes were more prevalent than they are today, there was a time when union bosses conditioned their members for the eventuality that negotiations could break down and union members might be on strike—for a long, long time.
Now, with the CWA and IBEW’s 45,000 members on strike against Verizon, the UFCW possibly calling 60,000+ grocery workers out on strike in Southern California, and the UAW calling for a strike vote at Ford, it is worth exploring the actual costs of a strike on workers and their families—as well as the best ways to not let a strike lead to financial ruin.
First some facts about strikes:
- In the private-sector striking for lawful reasons is legal. As long as strikers do not engage in unlawful activity, they cannot be fired. However, under federal law, economic strikers can be permanently replaced.
- In most states, strikers do not collect unemployment insurance. In the four states that do provide strikers with unemployment, the majority of strikers have to wait until the completion of seven weeks on the strike lines.
- Note: If the Verizon strike goes more than 49 days, strikers in NJ, NY & RI may be eligible for unemployment, but those strikers in the other affected states probably would not.
- When workers are out on strike, employers are not required to continue paying the employer portion of strikers’ benefits. Striking workers can, however, maintain benefits through paying COBRA (the full rate, plus the administrative costs).
- Note: This week, Verizon notified its striking workers that it will discontinue paying for their health care coverage at the end of the month.
- The average length of strikes for most major unions is between 30 and 45 days.
- Some unions provide strike pay, while others do not. Rarely, however, is strike pay enough to maintain a household.
How not to be burned during a union strike.
The adage “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” is a good way to think about striking. Obviously, the easiest way not to be burned during a union strike is to not strike. However, there are times when workers (especially in non-Right-to-Work states) either choose to strike, are convinced to strike, or where not striking is simply not feasible (union members who cross picket lines can face severe punishment from unions, including trial, fines and worse).
For those individuals who are called out on strike, here are some simple tips (a downloadable copy below) on how to avoid the financial devastation that strikes sometimes cause.
Well before you are called out on strike, consider doing the following:
- Work overtime and save, save, save.
- Pay down credit cards. During a strike, your cash is usually limited. You don’t want to have to make monthly payments, plus debt with what little cash you have. Also, if you run out of cash, you may have to live on your credit cards.
- Stock up on non-perishables.
- Make sure your vehicles are in good shape, maintenance done, oil changed, etc.
- Get your doctor’s appointments out of the way. If you strike, as in the case of Verizon, your employer may opt to discontinue paying its portion of your health care.
- Stock up on medicines (prescriptions, first aid, etc.) and other supplies
- Notify creditors that you may be one strike and, if possible rearrange payments.
For more details on how not to be burned during a union strike, you may download or read the document below:
Note: The information above has been compiled from personal experiences as a union striker, union mobilization coordinator, as well as labor relations practitioner.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776