Strike Contingency Planning: Are You Prepared?

Say the word "strike," and what comes to mind? A good guess is "labor union." The assumption naturally follows that strike contingency planning is for union companies, while non-union companies only need to plan when a union organizing threat becomes a reality. The truth is that a union and non-union company is vulnerable to worker strikes, pickets, boycotts, or protests. As workers press for social equity, equality, environmental sustainability, and other moral and ethical issues, there is a rise in actions intended to force management to change what workers consider unfair policies and leader behaviors. These protest actions get a lot of media attention which can harm a company's reputation while placing unwanted pressure on decision-making at the executive level and fomenting further employee unhappiness. Companies need to have a strike contingency plan in place - regardless of the status of employees as union-represented or union-free

Strike Contingency Planning is Business Continuity Planning 

As a review, strike contingency planning is a process for ensuring business continuity if your employees decide to strike. Ironically, with millions of people walking off the job in the 'Resignation Nation,' strike contingency planning has many elements that apply to the massive amount of quits taking place. (In September 2021, 4.4 million people quit their jobs.) For example, the contingency plan identifies employee positions that are critical to continued operations.  

Out of strike contingency planning can arise: 

  • Picket, boycott, and protest contingency planning 
  • Key position resignation planning 
  • Public relations contingency planning 
  • Financial contingency planning  

Think in broad terms about strike contingency planning because it is a labor relations issue. For example, when workers walk off a job for any reason, union and union-free companies must have the talent management processes to replace workers with the right skills to maintain operational efficiency. Public relations contingency planning is on the list because labor actions can damage a company's reputation, which in turn harms efforts to remain an employer of choice. Labor disputes can easily lead to financial losses, so strike contingency planning is also financial contingency planning.  

How will your business continue to operate should any or all workers refuse to work? Business continuity planning is focused on minimizing operational risks, which include the risk of a labor dispute. Forward-thinking companies will reference a strike contingency plan with the perspective that today's workers don't have to be union employees to take group action around a particular message they want to send management and the public.  

How will your business continue to operate should any or all workers refuse to work? Business continuity planning can help minimize operational risks. #continuityplanning #businesscontinuity

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Answering Questions with a Strike Contingency Plan 

In general, as a review, the strike contingency plan answers questions like the following: 

  • What is the required minimum labor force to maintain critical operations? 
  • What are the critical skills, certifications, and experience of positions that must be filled in order to continue operating? 
  • How will your company find replacement workers with the right qualifications? 
  • How much inventory is needed for a designated period of time to meet customer demand? 
  • Are there backup suppliers should current suppliers boycott your company? 
  • What critical areas need security, and where will the company access NLRA-trained personnel who understand lawful and unlawful strikes and protests? 
  • How will union labor replacements and/or non-union employees safely reach their workstations? 
  • How will vendors deliver goods and services during a work stoppage when strikers or protesters block entrances onto the employer's property? 
  • In what ways is the non-union company most vulnerable to unionization
  • How will managers communicate during a union strike, protest, or picketing event? 
  • How will the company communicate with employees in the workplace and with employees who walked off the job? 
  • Who is responsible for interacting with the media? 
  • Who will coordinate communication with the union? 
  • How will different business locations communicate? 
  • Who will coordinate communication with customers? 
  • What training do non-union and replacement employees need regarding issues like crossing picket lines, getting verbal or physical threats, conversing with strikers, etc.? 
  • How will confrontations or incidents between striking and non-striking employees, or when damage to the employer's property is evident, be handled? 
  • How will computer systems be secured, including addressing access by striking or remote employees? 
  • What security arrangements are needed to protect the safety of employees and facilities? 
  • What are the legal steps that can be taken in various situations? 
strike planning

This is just a general overview of the kind of information your business will address in a strike contingency plan. Though the general principles of every strike contingency plan are the same, each plan is customized for the business because your business has a unique communication system, physical configuration, management structure, leadership decision-making process, and legal and other resources. 

Another critical point to keep in mind is that each labor union has a history of intimidation and pressure tactics commonly used. If your employees are not union members but decide to picket or protest, they're still likely communicating with one or more union representatives or worker centers.  

Need some help with strike contingency planning in your own workplace?

We're here to help you solve your unique needs. Our team of experts can help you implement the strategy that works best for your organization.


Detecting a Possible Strike, Picket, Protest, or Boycott 

Identifying a possible business disruption event involving employees and their supporters as early as possible is important. Optimally, you want to collect information as actionable intelligence and attempt to address the issue positively before employees decide to strike or protest. This is a much easier process if your leaders have established positive employee relations.

It's not always possible to avoid a strike or protest, especially in these days of civil and social unrest and in a connected world. Here is a good example. The Make Amazon Pay coalition of labor organizations and workers called for a labor strike by Amazon employees on Black Friday in 20 countries at Amazon's data centers, factories, and warehouses. The five categories of demands are workplace improvements, respect for workers' rights, job security, sustainable operations, and paying back society. Amazon is often discussed because of its sheer size and global influence. The company is targeted by labor unions but also environmental groups and climate activists who want employees to protest for increased wages and less harm to the planet. 

The point is your employees, and your company could also be a target of various groups and not just labor unions. It's a sign of the times. Actionable intelligence lets your leaders know what to expect, so a readiness response team can implement the contingency plan. 

Every company needs to be aware of what is being said about it by employees, customers, organized labor, and the public. You are monitoring for what is being said about things like working conditions, job security, health and safety practices, work schedules, contacts made with labor unions or other labor organizations like alt-labor groups, labor union comments about the company, pay equity, gender equity, diversity and inclusion, workplace culture, environmental impacts of business policies, the impact of business operations on communities of operation and any other areas of potential vulnerability. Some companies have experienced protests over mandatory vaccine policies, and legal opinions indicate the protests are protected concerted activity per Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). 

Tools for Monitoring

You can monitor based on the mention of your company name, brand or specific products, facilities, and personnel, gathering intelligence that includes positive or negative sentiment from various information sources. Intelligence gathering should come from a variety of sources. They include:  

  • Social media, including internet forums, blogs, popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, and unique social messaging platforms 
  • Newspaper and magazine articles 
  • Online news media 
  • Local news 
  • Labor union websites 
  • Employment websites where employees can post reviews of employers, like Glassdoor, Indeed, CareerBliss, and Quora 
  • Video-based social media, like YouTube and TikTok 
  • Employee email communications in the workplace 
  • Customer feedback collection and analysis 

All of these sources are a wealth of information because there are so many ways for companies to be supported or attacked. Social media listening is a tool for monitoring online conversations based on keywords or an expression across social media and the web. The analytics offers insights into the volume and extent of the conversations, key themes, and public sentiment.  

Sentiment analysis is also called "opinion mining" because it involves monitoring text to determine if the language reflects negative, positive, or neutral sentiment. To derive actionable insights, your company needs to understand what aspect of your company, brand, or workplace the poster or writer is discussing. You want to classify messages into themes, like employees who object to the COVID-19 vaccine policy, labor unions criticizing your company for its safety violations, or consumers complaining about environmental sustainability practices. These are indicators of a potential strike, protest, picket, or boycott.  

There are positive themes too. Someone may post that your company has an inclusive workplace culture or a union isn't needed because management and employees have a good relationship. During the Amazon union organizing campaign in Bessemer, AL, some employees publicly stated there were good employer-employee relations.  

One more important point to keep in mind in today's environment is the importance of monitoring general trending topics or issues, like racial injustice, social inequality, human rights, protests across the nation, and global protests. These trends may point to increasing potential for strikes, boycotts, pickets, or protests in your areas of operation or within your workforce.   

strike contingency plan

Strike Contingency Readiness 

You can develop a strike contingency plan, but just as important is the implementation plan. Your strike contingency plan will include specifics that ensure your company can carry out the plan's elements.  

Readiness response team – The readiness response team needs specific people named as members of the team. It has similarities to a rapid response team to prevent union organizing. Your company's functions should be represented, along with representatives from different leadership levels. Human Resources, Public Relations, cross-functional unit heads, certified labor relations professionals, and frontline supervisors are all important to understanding the complexities of employee issues.  

Media response training - The media response team is like a crisis management team. It will respond to social media posts and inquiries from media and community members/organizations, issue press releases, and hold press conferences. The media team ensures a consistent, accurate representation of company policies, procedures, culture, brand, and so on is sent.  

Communication system - If there are any gaps in your communication system, they will show up before and during a strike or protest. There should be an established communications plan specific to crisis incidents, like a strike. The communication systems should be reliable, offer a consistent flow of information, and perhaps even include alternate methods of communication should the primary systems get interrupted.  

When the data analytics indicate a strike or protest could develop, do your managers know what to do with the information? Do your managers know what to report to higher management as an event unfolds? A gap in communication can have serious consequences. For example, a manager fails to report a security breach. Also, make sure there's a communication process in place that ensures employees who either work or strike/protest know exactly where the company stands on issues.  

Train managers – Leadership training before a strike or protest ever takes place is needed. The training informs your managers and supervisors on managing work disruptions, maintaining civility in the workplace, employer and employee rights during a union-led event, de-escalating volatile situations, listening skills, and more.  

Review Human Resources policies – The UnionProof team frequently recommends reviewing HR policies. In this case, you are reviewing policies to ensure they address workplace behaviors during strikes and protests. While some employees are picketing outside your workplace, the workers who remain on the job need to know your clear expectations for how they are expected to behave, such as social media posting limitations and respecting the rights of people to protest.   

The HR policies should also clearly delineate your company's policies should an employee choose to strike or protest. The rules for striking union employees are regulated by the National Labor Relations Act, but employees who walk off their job to protest may not have the same protections. It depends on the reason for the protest. You have a lot of discretion as to how you handle each situation not covered by the NLRA, but consistency in a policy application is, of course, important. Your company policies can address matters like employees taking time off to protest and potential disciplinary actions.  

Proactively Prepare for a Strike or Protest 

In the proactive era, it makes sense for every unionized and non-unionized company to proactively prepare for an organized employee event. Mitigating or preventing the impacts of a strike, protest, or other organized event is essential to business continuity. Our team of experts at IRI Consultants can help you with all aspects of strike contingency planning, including monitoring social media and other information sources.  

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.