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Could a non-union strike lead to wrongful discharge?

An interesting case on the West Coast this month has some people here in Indiana talking about whether the rights of non-union workers are being protected in the court system. The issue stems from a case in which a group of non-union employees threatened to strike because of unsafe working conditions. A federal judge granted the employer an injunction, effectively putting a stop to the strike, but now the 9th Circuit court may be rethinking the decision.

The courts may be reconsidering the decision because the case brings up an interesting question: should non-unionized employees be allowed to strike without representation? According to the group of employees, they were represented by an employee advocacy group but were turned away from filing their complaint because they were not considered a union. How would they be able to file their complaint about workplace safety and protect themselves from retaliatory termination in the process?

As many of our Indiana readers know, our state practices employment-at-will, which means an employer can fire you for any reason. If the case were to have occurred here, the workers may be concerned about the integrity of their employment after threatening to strike. While this case could create the same confusion here in Indiana, it's important to point out that the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to provide workers with a safe working environment. If the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found the employer in this case to have violated state and federal worker safety laws, they may be protected from retaliatory termination down the road.

This is of course hypothetical at this point and will still need to be determined in the courts. It's in complex situations such as this that employees here in Indiana are reminded of the fact that sometimes doing the right thing can lead to a wrongful discharge but how important it is to seek legal assistance when a situation such as this does occur.

Source: Courthouse News, "Judges Mull Strike Rights of Nonunion Workers," June Williams, July 16, 2013

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