Picket Line Do’s and Don’ts

Teamsters at DHL, Sysco, US Foods and other employers have been extending picket lines to win strong contracts. 

As our union ramps up the use of the strike weapon, members should understand your rights to honor a primary picket if a strike line is extended to where you work.

Teamsters at Sysco have used coordinated bargaining and picket line extensions to win strong contracts at the food distribution company that employs 10,000 Teamsters. 

Image Source: Teamsters Local 89

Read this Q&A from TDU about your rights when you’re called on to honor a picket line.

These guidelines outline your basic rights. Always check with your local for guidance.

What are my rights as a Teamster to honor picket lines?

Primary picketing takes place at the workplace of the employer with whom the picketers have a dispute. 

Most Teamster contracts have language protecting members who refuse to cross picket lines. But not all contracts.

Every Teamster member should check whether their contract provides this important right. Check with your local union to get instructive advice.

The clause is usually located in the “Protected Rights” or “No Strike–No Lockout” sections of your contract.

The language protects you from discipline if you exercise your right to not cross a picket line.

What do I do if I encounter a picket line while I am making deliveries?

UPS, Freight and most Teamster delivery driver contracts have the right to honor primary picket lines. If you come to a picket line, inform your supervisor that there is a picket line and that you cannot make the delivery.

How do you define a picket line?

A picket line is a physical line of striking workers in front of you, picketing an employer.

The picket signs will say, “On Strike.” If there is not a physical line in front of you, you will have to work.

What do I do if I encounter a picket line at my workplace?

This may happen because Teamster strikers who work for the same employer that you do are extending their picket line from their workplace to yours.

Call your steward or business agent to inform them of the picket and ask what to do. If the picket line is expected to remain up for your whole shift, you should go home.

You may want to join the picket line to show your support. But consult your local first. In some cases, your local may advise you to leave the area and not to join the picket line.

Depending on your contract, joining the picket line, carrying signs or banners, or distributing literature for the striking workers could give the company grounds to accuse the union of violating the contract’s “No Strike-No Lockout" clause.

If your local advises you not to join the picket line, don’t worry. You’ve already performed a great act of solidarity by choosing not to cross.

If I get to work and there is no picket line at the gate or entrance, but it forms after I am already at work, what do I do?

Consult your steward or business agent. Most important is to check the contract’s “protected rights.” Refusing to work behind a picket line is a right, however, you need to verify this right is in the contract in black and white and that your local union will back you up.

If you are asked to exit the facility and cross a picket line in service of the employer, your right to choose not to cross would still apply.

What can my local union do if there is a picket line at my job or another local extends their picket line to our workplace?

Local union representatives, including officers, business agents, and stewards, can:

  • Inform members of their individual rights under their contract to honor a lawful primary picket line.
  • Be present at the start of picketing, though away from the primary picket line, to inform members of their rights and answer questions.

Under the “No Strike, No Lockout” clause Local union representatives cannot:

  • Encourage or discourage members from honoring a specific picket line.
  • Join the picket line, hold picket signs, or provide materials for the picket line.

Individual members (who are not officers, business agents, and stewards) can and should encourage one another to honor a picket line.

Will my local warn me if there is an extended picket line at my job?

Locals should notify members if there is an active picket line at their job and inform them of their rights to honor a picket line. They should also inform members when the picket line ends so that members don’t accidentally violate the contract.

What should I say to management?

Your contract might specify a process for informing management that you’ll be respecting a picket line. As an example, at UPS, you can record a strike on the DIAD as the reason you cannot deliver. If a supervisor questions you, inform them that you are exercising your contractual right to refuse to cross a picket line.

What if management threatens to discipline me?

Immediately call your steward or business agent. Tell management that you have a right to honor a primary picket line.

What if my contract doesn’t protect my right to honor a picket line?

If your contract prohibits you from honoring picket lines and engaging in a sympathy strike, or lacks “protected rights" language, contact TDU. We can provide you with model language to fight for in your next contract.


Informational Picket Lines and Practice Picketing

Practice picketing is another innovative tactic that Teamsters are using to build unity during a contract campaign and put management on notice that we are ready to strike if we have to.

Practice picketing and other “informational picketing” is not a “primary strike.” Honoring a primary strike picket is protected, honoring a informational picket by refusing to work or make deliveries is not protected.

Informational picket lines do not ask anyone to stop working or making deliveries.

You can join an informational picket or “just practicing” picket line as long as you are off the clock. But you cannot miss work.

In rare cases, a contract will prohibit picketing of any kind during the contract. This language would prohibit your local from organizing a practice picket or informational picket.

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