The American Labor Reform Movement

October 23, 2012

Companies Are Using 'Lockouts' to Shut Down
Their Plants or Operate with 'Scab' Workers

Lockout Continues Until Workers Agree to Wage Cuts and Benefits


A "lockout" is the opposite of a strike, initiated by the employer. Ask a pro-football or basketball player and they will describe what it is to be "locked out". What you should know is that lockouts have been growing in frequency and have become a smart employer's strategy to compel their work force to grant concessions in wages and benefits.

How does it work? The employer simply shuts down the factory or its targeted institution until its employees agree to concessions that it has taken maybe decades to establish.

While it is true that the employer, by closing his factory, will be losing a considerable amount of production and/or revenue, apparently the risk is worth the advantages gained through the lockout.

The lockout strategy has been adopted in unexpected industries. It has been used in disputes involving professional athletes in football, basketball and other sports; in a truck drivers for Supermoms Bakery in Twin Cities, Minn. and even its orchestra, a major attraction. An outstanding example is American Crystal Sugar, where 1,300 skilled workers, who turn beets into sugar, have been locked out for 15 months.

It deserves investigation why American Crystal has been able to maintain its long and continuing lockout without intervention from its base, North Dakota or the federal government or the AFL-CIO's nearby unions.

How Does the AFL-CIO Handle Employer 'Lockouts'?

Unions can't be indifferent when employers lock out the regular employees and choose to operate with "replacements"? If the unions don't put on pressure to end the lockout, those replacements may end up as full-time employees.

Unions can conduct a publicity campaign against the employer, commenting on his unethical action in depriving his loyal staff with workers who probably are outside of the community where the plant is located. There are other was of informing replacements that theyare not wanted in this community.

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Historical Note: About 30 years ago, the AFL-CIO tried to get Congress approval to a law that limited the role of temporary employees in strike situations. As I recall, it failed by a few votes. Lane Kirkland, then AFL-CIO president, who was in Europe for a diplomatic conference, was blamed for the defeat. Shortly afterward, he was pressured into resigning. What is the AFL-CIO doing today about lockouts?