Earlier this week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer does not violate the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to reinstate economic strikers because it had hired permanent replacements, even though those "permanent" workers are at-will employees. The decision in United Steelworkers v. NLRB upheld an earlier National Labor Relations Board ruling, also in favor of the employer.
The court upheld the NLRB’s ruling board permissibly held that employer and the replacement employees had a "mutual understanding" that, despite an at-will clause in the replacements’ employment applications, their employment was, for purposes of replacing the strikers, "permanent." The Court agreed with the NLRB that an at-will employment clause in the striker replacements’ job applications did not make them "temporary" replacements who normally must be terminated in favor of returning strikers.
This ruling gives employers greater flexibility in hiring permanent replacement workers in the event of a strike. Nevertheless, whether an employer may "permanently" replace strikers in a particular strike is a very complex legal issue. In any strike situation, employers need to be very careful about whether to hire "permanent" or "temporary" replacement workers, and to only permanently replace strikers if they are legally entitled to do so. And in any event, employers may not ever replace a striking Tina Fey, because she’s too funny.