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What is a wildcat strike?

The industrial revolution swept in many changes as not only did it see a great reduction in farming and fishing as self-sustaining work but also the rise the working class in Canada.

Unfortunately, the rise of the worker also saw the rise of worker abuse and something was needed in order to ensure that workers had rights: the right to be paid fairly and not to have to work too many hours.

Unions started popping up in the 19th century, right along with the working class. The first unions were small and often illegal and most of them advocated against child labour and for a shorter work week.

While unions have come a long way in Canada today, and most of them are legal thanks to federal and provincial laws and regulations that ensure that both workers and employers have the right to bargain, including to strike and to initiate a lockout, there are still situations where certain things a unionized worker or an employer dealing with unionized workers does are not legal.

What is a wildcat strike?

A wildcat strike is a strike by workers that has not been approved by their union. It may be started while a union contract is still valid or even while the union is negotiating for benefits for workers. The latter is problematic as it can catch union managers off-guard and cause problems with the negotiating process between the union and the employer.

How does a wildcat strike differ from other strikes?

The major difference between the wildcat strike and a regular strike is the obvious one: one’s illegal and the other isn’t. When the union calls for a strike, given it has followed the legislation that regulates unions and employers, then that is a legal action.

What are the consequences of a wildcat strike?

If employees participate in wildcat strikes they could face serious consequences. One such consequence could be a loss of their employment. While normally legislation would protect the employee from losing his or her job while on strike, because the wildcat strike is illegal, the employer may have the right to fire the employee as the employee would not be protected under labour legislation, or by their union, in case of a wildcat strike. In addition, the employee, as well as the union, could face legal action or financial penalties.

If wildcat strikes are illegal and offer few protections why do some employees choose to participate anyways?

Generally, most unionized employees won’t want to take such action. However, there are some situations in which workers may agree to take part in it. For example, if it’s a very short strike and intended only to make a point, such as if both the company and the union are ignoring a serious safety issue.

What are some examples of wildcat strikes in Canada?

One of the best known examples of a wildcat strike in Canada is a relatively recent one: the 2012 Air Canada worker strike which saw the grounding of 77 flights in Canada.

If you are a part of a wildcat strike and are concerned about possible consequences you should consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Taming a wildcat strike

What is a wildcat strike?