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About 25,000 grocery store employees have threatened to strike against two supermarkets in Arizona if a negotiated agreement isn’t reached by Friday. Several news stories have appeared about workers protesting against their union’s plan. How might this internal disagreement weaken the union’s leverage?

Let’s first consider the supermarkets’ Plan B (what happens if an agreement isn’t reached and their workers strike). It’s to hire replacement workers. To strengthen this alternative, the supermarkets have already begun advertising for replacement workers. While hiring replacements may cause them to lose customers sympathetic to those on strike and may result in other problems due to the replacements’ inexperience, it would allow them to continue operations. They may even desire this outcome – assuming they can pay the replacements significantly less than the union workers – if it allows them to compete more effectively long-term against their non-union competitors (Wal-Mart, for example).

The worker’s Plan B is to strike. This alternative doesn’t appear as strong as the companies’ Plan B, especially in this economic environment. Why? Some of the striking workers will receive a small stipend, others won’t get paid at all, and many will not be able to live comfortably without their lost salary. Plus, the strike will coincide with the upcoming holiday season, when many have additional expenses. In fact, the workers opposed to the possible strike are saying just this.

The workers’ protests may negatively impact their leverage in other ways too. For example, the workers’ divided front will draw attention away from the supermarkets’ actions, which they contend led to the present situation. Finally, public sentiment may be less sympathetic to the union with so many folks being out-of-work in these tough economic times.

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