Originally aired on February 19, 1996, “Bar Association” is the sixteenth episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 4. The 88th episode of the series overall, “Bar Association” sees the service workers employed by Quark’s Bar, Grill, Gaming House and Holosuite Arcade form a union and strike. Nearly three decades after the episode aired, “Bar Association” has proven to be a crucial and enduring Star Trek episode.

“Bar Association”

“Bar Association” was written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Ira Steven Behr from a story by Barbara J. Lee and Jenifer A. Lee. The episode was directed by Star Trek: The Next Generation alum LeVar Burton. It opens with the catalyst for the strike: the poor health of Rom (Max Grodénchik). However, in spite of Rom’s illness, he is unable to take time off from his job.

Unfortunately, the inability to take time off leads Rom to collapse on the job. This isn’t the only example of Rom’s experience resembling the current exploitative capitalistic situation on Earth. In another scene, Quark (Armin Shimerman) cuts employee wages by a third, citing lost profits due to customer abstinence motivated by the Bajoran Time of Cleansing.

RELATED: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Chase Masterson on Pop Culture Hero and Social Justice

Taking a suggestion from Doctor Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), Rom organizes a labor union. This is no simple task: the intensely capitalistic Ferengi have trouble even saying the word “union.” Furthermore, the Guild of Restaurant and Casino Employees doesn’t just face pushback from Quark. The union also receives pressure from a representative of the Ferengi Commerce Association (FCA), liquidator Brunt (Jeffrey Combs).

Eventually, Brunt and his Nausicaan enforcers turn their strikebreaking efforts toward someone “unexpected”: Quark. After being badly beaten by the FCA, Quark agrees to prompt acquiescence to the demands of the union. This is on condition that the organization nominally dissolve, resolving Quark’s issues with the FCA. However, while it may be dissolved by the episode’s conclusion, the union achieves its goal of better living conditions for Quark’s employees.

O’Brien Meme

Throughout “Bar Association,” Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) plays an integral role. In the cold open, O’Brien and Bashir are participating in a recreational holographic recreation of the Battle of Clontarf. This historical conflict took place in 1014, near Dublin, Ireland. According to the popular understanding of the conflict, King Brian Boru led 1,000 Irish soldiers against the Viking hordes. While Boru died in the conflict, the collective action of his soldiers meant history considered the conflict a victory for the Irish.

O’Brien claims he is descended from Boru. Later in the episode, he tells Rom the story of the 1902 miner’s strike in Pennsylvania. Like the Battle of Clontarf, the disenfranchised prevail in the strike. Also like the battle, O’Brien claims lineage that includes strike leader Sean Aloysius O’Brien. Like Boru, although Sean’s side is victorious, he does not survive the strike himself.

RELATED: SDCC 2019: Deep Space Nine Cast and Crew Reflect on What We Left Behind

In the very next scene, O’Brien and Worf (Michael Dorn) have a metaphorical discussion about the machinery of Deep Space Nine. While Worf questions the constant maintenance required, O’Brien explains the station requires the technologies of disparate species working in harmony to properly function. This is a metaphor for a general strike, which requires disparate workers to collaborate on collective action in order to achieve balance in the power relationship between employees and employers.

Crucially, one element of O’Brien’s encouragement towards Rom has become a widely used internet meme. When O’Brien tells Rom the story of Sean, Bashir says Sean died a hero. “He was more than a hero,” O’Brien replies. “He was a union man.” This phrase over the image of O’Brien winking as he delivers the dialogue has become a widely used internet meme.

“The Sober Strike”

In March 2023, the cell phone telephone game Star Trek: Lower Decks: The Badgey Directive released episode 50, “The Sober Strike.” Each TBD episode pays homage to a classic Star Trek episode, dropping the Star Trek: Lower Decks crew into the action. “The Sober Strike” takes its inspiration from “Bar Association.”

Freeman tells Honus the Bartender that the striking workers on DS9 have the full support of the Cerritos in an episode inspired by "Bar Association."

Solidarity on the Cerritos.

In “The Sober Strike,” the entire crew of the DS9 in the program being run by Badgey in the USS Cerritos holodeck goes on strike in solidarity with the union of Quark’s workers. Furthermore, scenes show Cerritos crewmembers striking in solidarity. This includes Cerritos bartender Honus, who refuses to fill a drink order (to the chagrin of Doctor T’Ana).

RELATED: Pro Tips for Star Trek: Lower Decks: The Badgey Directive Mobile Game

Over the course of the episode, the entire crew of the Cerritos makes it clear that they are sympathetic to the pleas of the union. This solidarity even includes holograms. And at one point, Quark attempts to enlist Beckett Mariner’s help in breaking the strike. However, in spite of Mariner’s predilection towards violence, she finds the notion of breaking a strike repulsive.

Nevertheless, the unapologetic capitalist Quark defends the Ferengi way. He cites “bootstraps” and says that his staff should be paying him for exploiting them (and thus giving them the high-pressure circumstances he claims are necessary so they can eventually become employers themselves). Ultimately, the crew of the Cerritos is able to convince Quark to relent. They accomplish this by demonstrating to Quark that, rather than being a truly self-made Ferengi, his success is actually contingent on the complete rent discount which Quark’s bar receives from Sisko. This detail was confirmed in canon by “Bar Association.”

2023 Writer’s Strike

This isn’t the only time that the legacy of “Bar Association” has been demonstrated in 2023. On March 19, 2023, Star Trek: Prodigy writer Aaron J. Waltke shared a post on social media. 

RELATED: Read all of our recaps of Star Trek: Prodigy!

The picture was taken at a WGA picket line attended by many Star Trek creators. Waltke is standing next to “Bar Association” co-writer Wolfe. Both writers have signs that quote O’Brien’s “more than a hero” line.

“Bar Association” might tell the tale of a fictional strike on DS9 in the 24th century. However, the story continues to inspire real humans alive today to seek a better standard of living for themselves and their peers. 

Paramount+. Thousands of episodes including all Star Trek series, live TV & exclusive originals–all in one place. Try it free!

This article was originally published in 5/2023. 

STAR TREK PRODIGY: We Don’t Get to See the Future

Avery Kaplan