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What Is a Wildcat Strike?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A wildcat strike is a strike action which is undertaken while a union contract is still in effect, or while a union is negotiating for benefits. Since a wildcat strike is not authorized by a union, it is technically an illegal action. In most countries, employees who participate in a wildcat strike can be dismissed without legal repercussions for the company. Because these strikes are not legally protected, most workers try to avoid them.

In labor terms, a strike is a stoppage or slowdown or work which is designed to force a company into making concessions. There are a number of different styles of strike, ranging from strikes in which workers all simultaneously call in sick in a “sick-out” to a strike where workers picket their company in order to draw attention to the cause. In many countries, better labor laws and union protections have made strikes much less common. Striking workers also enjoy certain legal protections, such as the right to return to work.

Many modern workers are organized in a union, which bargains on behalf of the protected workers. A union may also call for a strike or another sort of protest action, if it deems the action necessary. In this case, the strike is legally permitted, because it is authorized by the union. Typically, a union will notify a company that a strike is imminent, allowing the company to decide whether to concede to the union's requests or to deal with the strike.

When a wildcat strike is organized, workers strike without the benefit of union protection. There are a number of reasons to organize a wildcat strike. In some cases, workers may feel that the union is not doing enough to protect them, so they strike on their own to force their company to pay attention to the issue. This type of strike may also occur when a serious safety issue is not addressed, or when workers want to protest a dismissal which they believe to be unfair.

Unlike a regular strike, a wildcat strike appears with no notice. The striking workers may picket the company to highlight the cause and force temporary workers out, or they may simply choose not to come to work. In some cases, this type of strike lasts only a day, and is held more to make a point than to decide a major issue. In other instances, the strike lasts until the perceived problem has been addressed or corrected.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By cafe41 — On Jun 24, 2011

@Subway11 -I personally have no desire to ever join a union because I don’t see the need in having one. I think that unions can adversely affect businesses because they impose demands of the business but don’t necessarily raise the productivity standards of the union members.

So you have people making increasingly more money without having to produce more. When companies are bound by these unions they usually face financial problems because businesses exist to make a profit and it is difficult to pay employees more money without seeing additional productivity from them.

I also think that the fact that the employees that are part of the union have to pay dues for membership in the union and don’t necessarily see the results that they want from these unions is another reason that union membership is not for me.

Some companies are getting around union membership by offering their employees more benefits and higher wages then the union would.

By subway11 — On Jun 22, 2011

@Mutsy - I wanted to add that I understand both sides of the issue, but I agree that when a teacher intentionally misses work it does hurt their cause a little. Teachers are so important to our society that they should protest afterschool so that they can still get their point across without hurting the children. This will make their cause a little stronger.

I also think that a labor union carries more weight in some states than in others. For example, in Florida it is an at will state and you can be fired for basically anything. The few unions that operate in the state of Florida have no power.

However, in New York and Wisconsin the unions are very powerful and can make a huge difference in these political outcomes.

By mutsy — On Jun 22, 2011

@BrickBack- I do think that people that strike in this fashion are selfish especially when they are prohibited by law from doing so. What I really don’t understand is how teachers can strike and intentionally miss work.

Children are depending on them and it really hurts their cause. It is just like if a nurse goes out on strike. People that are sick really depend on these people and there should be a law against this form of protesting.

I remember a year ago there was a sick out because the teachers were protesting a proposed bill that the legislature was looking into that would tie half of the teacher salary to the performance of students.It was hard on the teachers and I understand why they were upset.

Many of the teachers felt that this was unfair because they said that there are so many factors that were beyond their control that they should not be penalized for it.

For example, if they tried to motivate a student that simply did not want to learn, they felt that they should not be penalized with reduced pay because not all children want to learn.

I understand how the teachers felt because there is some truth to that, but I disagree with the sick out. Children were hurt by this and all of the substitutes in the world were not going to make up for the loss that the children experienced that day.

By BrickBack — On Jun 19, 2011

I remember about six years ago there was a bus strike in New York City. It was actually a full blown transit strike that was totally illegal because state law prohibited public workers like this to strike.

The Mayor was really upset because you can just imagine how this wild cat strike disrupted the city. He said that they were being selfish because so many depend on public transportation to get around the city.

A judge stepped in and fined the transit labor unions $1,000,000 dollars a day for every day that they chose to strike. Needless to say that got back to work quickly.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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