A Supreme Court ruling this week that permits employers to give job preference to people who continue to work during a strike is one of those unheralded decisions that could have significant consequences.
In its 6-3 ruling, the court decided that strikers who cross picket lines and return to work may be given job preference over more senior workers who stay loyal to their union.Coming at a time when companies are increasingly turning to replacement workers during walkouts, the ruling could cripple the use of strikes as a weapon against employers.
The verdict stems from a 1986 case involving Trans World Airlines flight attendants who attempted to return to work after a 72-day walkout only to find their jobs had been filled.
In writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the court could see no reason why "employees who chose not to gamble on the success of the strike should suffer the consequences when the gamble proves unsuccessful."
That makes sense.
Although dissenting justices expressed fears about the effect the ruling could have on veteran workers who choose to strike, it may be many months before the decision's impact can accurately be gauged.
But deciding that workers have a right not to strike and that employers have a right to maintain operations during a strike, the court may have gone a long way toward preventing crippling shutdowns of the transportation industry, which has been especially vulnerable to walkouts.
That appears to be a step in the right direction.