What types of strikes are legal and illegal?

Author: Irene Stavrellis Englert, Englert Legal Consulting, LLC

The following strikes are legal under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA):

  • Economic strikes, in which employees attempt to pressure the employer to concede to their demands for improvements in wages, benefits or work rules;
  • Unfair labor practice strikes, in protest of an employer's committing an unfair labor practice; and
  • Sympathy strikes, which occur when employees choose not to cross a primary picket line out of sympathy for the primary striking employees.

Note that the terms of a collective bargaining agreement between the employer and union may limit or prohibit a union's right to engage in an economic strike.

The following strikes are illegal, and employees who engage in such strikes lose the protection of the NLRA:

  • Intermittent strikes, involving the constant repetition of short strikes in which the employees attempt to pressure the employer to concede to their demands while still receiving wages;
  • "Work to rule" or slowdown strikes, in which employees fail to perform the duties which the employer has historically required them to perform;
  • In-facility or "sit down" strikes, in which the striking employees take possession of the employer's property and block others from entering;
  • Recognitional or organization picketing when the employer has lawfully recognized another union, or when a valid election has been conducted within the preceding 12 months;
  • Secondary boycotts, in which the employees picket a neutral employer; and
  • Violence and mass picketing.