Official Strike

What is an Official Strike?

An official strike is a work stoppage by union members that is endorsed by the union and that follows the legal requirements for striking, such as being voted on by a majority of union members. Workers engaging in official strikes have better protections against being fired as opposed to an unofficial strike. An official strike is usually undertaken by employees as a last resort in response to grievances. An official strike may also be called an official industrial action, a strike action or a strike.

Key Takeaways

  • An official strike is one that complies with the required legal processes for declaring and carrying out a strike or other work stoppage.
  • Official strikes are considered protected concerted action under the National Labor Relations Act, but whether any particular strike counts as official or not can depend on rulings by the National Labor Relations Board. 
  • Workers engaged in an official strike enjoy better legal protections against dismissal or retaliation by their employer.

Understanding an Official Strike

In the U.S. industrial labor relations are governed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) under the National Labor Relations Act and other relevant laws. Ultimately, the NLRB decides whether a strike complies with the requirements to be considered an official strike. These laws grant workers the right to engage in protected concerted activity, including strikes, provided they follow the required legal processes laid out in the law and enforced by the NLRB. An official strike is one that follows these processes and thus is legally recognized and protected under the law by the NLRB. Workers who engage in an official strike can enjoy protection from retaliation by their employer, such as being disciplined or dismissed. 

Strikes are undertaken as part of the collective bargaining process that goes on between labor unions and employers in order to determine wages, benefits, working conditions, and in the case of public servants, legislation governing said services. Generally, union members will vote to go on strike when other bargaining tactics have failed. When workers decide to strike without the approval of a union, it is called a wildcat strike. A wildcat strike may be undertaken when a union refuses to endorse a strike action, or because the striking workers do not have a union; such a strike may not offer workers the same protections as an official strike undertaken with formal union authorization.

Typically, striking workers refuse to go to work and may instead form a picket line outside the place of work in order to hinder the employer’s normal business or stop strikebreakers from crossing the picket line to go to work. Sometimes, workers conduct a strike by occupying the workplace, but refusing to complete their normal tasks and also refusing to leave the premises; such a strike is known as a sit-down strike. Where employees are public servants, picketing may take place, not at the workplace, but where lawmakers meet, such as in the West Virginia public school teachers’ strike of 2018.

Historical Example

A famous official strike in the United States was the 1994 Major League Baseball strike, which canceled the end of the regular season and the entire postseason. Some of the replacement players who played during 1995 spring training, when the strike had not yet ended, remained in the major leagues, but were not allowed union membership. One reason this is important is union players receive a certain percentage of Major League Baseball revenues, because MLB licenses players' names and images for items like jerseys and baseball cards. Nonunion members do not receive this benefit.

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  1. National Labor Relations Board. "National Labor Relations Act." Accessed Feb. 2, 2021.

  2. ESPN. "1994 Strike Was a Low Point for Baseball." Accessed Feb. 2, 2021.