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Workers may violate a contract when they walk off of their jobs

A previous post here discussed the importance of crafting strong, clear employment contracts. Weak agreements can invite misinterpretation and problems for New Jersey employers, which can then lead to problems with business operations. Recently, possible disputes over a contract and interactions with managers led dockworkers to abandon their posts at ports in both New Jersey and New York.

The walkout occurred on a Friday and crippled the waterfront activities of major East Coast ports. The walkout was organized, but managers at the ports were unaware that the event was planned. As dockworkers are unionized and covered by collective bargaining units it is not unexpected for workers to stage walkouts or strikes; those events are usually planned, however, and last Friday's incident apparently arose without warning.

Authorities for the ports are looking into the legality of the walkouts and are somewhat confused by their timing. It does not appear that the union's collective bargaining agreement was under scrutiny, although conflicts between workers and management may have precipitated the debilitating closure of the ports. Workers have expressed concerns over the level of involvement managers have in their lives, as managers for the ports have the powers to extend and retract dockworkers' licenses.

Although many details are yet to be worked out in this story, the message that it sends is clear: employees have the power to make or break business operations for corporate entities. Based upon the strength of their employment contracts, employers have varying rights to take action against workers who engage in behaviors that are detrimental to their business operations. Preparing solid business agreements is a critical step in maintaining the health of a growing New Jersey business.

Source:, "Investigation begins into N.J., N.Y. port walkout, as dockworkers return," Ted Sherman, Feb. 1, 2016

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