On September 16, 2012 at 12:00 a.m., the National Hockey League became the third professional sports league to lock out its players in as little as 18 months. A lockout is a labor tactic used by management when they decide to literally lock workers, or in the case of the NHL, players, out of the workplace. A strike, on the other hand, is when employees refuse to continue working and cause a work stoppage. Most people know what a strike is, but how many would know what a lockout is without the recent activity in professional sports?
Studies suggest that lockouts are not just on the rise in professional sports, but in other industries as well, while strikes are used less and less frequently. Lockouts were once a rarely-used negotiation tactic, so why have they become so popular?
The drastic increase in the number of lockouts suggests that the labor climate is changing. Employers are going on the offensive in an attempt to pressure employees into accepting less favorable contract terms. Employers also have been aided by a struggling economy. During a lockout, employees do not collect a pay check from their employer, which adds pressure for them to quickly negotiate a resolution and can sometimes lead to concessions they otherwise would not have made. Meanwhile, under federal law, the employer is allowed to hire replacement workers and can pay them at a lower rate than they would pay their regular employees.
The economy also makes employees slow to initiate a strike, because they will suffer the same consequences, less pay and probably less benefit. There is no shortage of qualified people looking for work, making it easy for an employer to replace strikers. To sum it up, employers have a lot to gain, and employees have a lot to lose.
Of course, not all labor negotiations involve either a lockout or a strike; most end with a newly-negotiated collective bargaining agreement prior to either of these tactics being used. If you are nearing the end of your collective bargaining agreement with your employees and have any questions or need assistance with negotiating a new contract, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Skoler, Abbott & Presser.