OPINION | Lock-outs: Employers abandon good faith collective bargaining


The new year began with continuing lock-outs for American Crystal Sugar workers, for musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and for the players of the National Hockey League.

The four-month NHL lock-out came to an end January 12.

But for workers at American Crystal Sugar — members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union — their employer now has locked them out for 17 months, since August 1, 2011.

Can you imagine how you and your family would survive 17 months locked-out from your job?

Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra — members of the Twin Cities Musicians Union — have been locked-out since October 1, 2012, three months and counting.

What are these lock-outs all about?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps both strikes and lock-outs together as “work stoppages.” But as you may know, strikes and lock-outs are fundamentally different.

In a strike, workers decide to withhold their labor from their employer.

In a lock-out, employers decide to deny workers the opportunity to work.

This distinction is lost to many members of the public, for whom the sight of workers with picket signs means only one thing: workers on strike.

Indeed, if you’ve been talking with friends and family in recent months, you probably needed to correct them if they referred to the Crystal Sugar or Twin Cities orchestra labor disputes as “strikes.”

National news media reporting on the American Crystal Sugar lock-out have noted that the number of lock-outs in the U.S. have been rising, while the number of strikes have been declining. 2011 saw 17 lockouts nationwide.

The increased use of lock-outs by employers nationwide and here in Minnesota sets dangerous precedents.

In a lock-out, the employer has chosen to abandon a good faith effort at collective bargaining to settle a new union contract. The employer in a lock-out is saying, “it’s my way or the highway.”

I fear that lock-outs may become the new tool of choice when employers nowadays already can use every anti-union tactic in their toolbox with little repercussion from the National Labor Relations Board or state or local officials.

For employers, the lock-out gives them the power to decide if, when, and how long workers and their families will suffer. In a lock-out, the employer says “you come to my terms or you stay out of work.”

Tbe locked-out workers aren’t the only ones affected. They can’t pay their mortgages. They cut back on buying groceries and other goods and services. Families and children lose their health insurance. A lock-out impacts the entire community.

In the case of the Minnesota Orchestra lock-out, two community leaders who serve on the orchestra board are its chair, Jon R. Campbell, who is an executive at Wells Fargo Bank, and Richard K. Davis, CEO of U.S. Bancorp, who is leading the negotiations with the Musicians Union.

These two men, pillars of the community, serve on numerous charitable boards and yet are deliberately hurting the community where they live and work by denying workers the ability to make a living.

As the Labor Review went to press, the Commerce Committee in the Minnesota House planned a public hearing January 23 on the recent and ongoing lock-outs in Minnesota. Let’s work with the legislature to devise protections for workers experiencing a lock-out. Let’s also find ways to hold employers accountable for the impacts a lock-out imposes on workers, communities, and the state.