DemDaily: Strike Summer

September 27, 2023

More than 362,000 workers in the United States -- including nurses, teachers, actors, screenwriters, factory workers, hotel and service employees, and baristas -- walked off their jobs during the first eight and a half months of 2023.

As of September 26 there had been 291 labor actions in 462 locations this year to demand higher wages and improved benefits and working conditions -- including some of the biggest strikes in recent US history.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, codified the right of private sector employees to organize into trade unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take collective action such as strikes. Those rights are separately guaranteed to railway and airline employees under the Railway Labor Act.

The strikes come at a time when the labor movement is experiencing a nationwide resurgence as workers are organizing and striking at levels not seen for decades.

Between 1983 and 2022, the share of US workers who belonged to unions fell by half, from 20.1% to 10.1%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the number of union representation elections increased 60% in 2022 compared to 2021, and the number of work stoppages increased by 52%.

According to Gallup, public support for unions is at a nearly 60-year high in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which laid bare the abuse of front-line and essential workers -- frustrated with growing income inequality and feeling undervalued.

The COVID-19 crisis shifted the balance of power between employers and workers -- spurring the "Great Resignation," when workers left their jobs in droves as they reassessed their priorities after the pandemic. Shortages in the labor market emboldened employees to exercise their newly found leverage in negotiating with businesses and corporations.

That power was no more evident than in July, when the International Brotherhood of Teamsters wielded the threat of a strike by 340,000 UPS employees to secure one of the strongest collective bargaining contracts in the company's history.

That month the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) also went on strike, joining the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which represents film and television writers, who have been on picket lines since May. Together, the 180,000 workers ignited a full-scale Hollywood revolution, creating the largest work stoppage since 1997.

This week, the WGA reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios, ending the nearly 150-day strike today as of 12:01pm PDT. The new three-year contract is expected to lay the groundwork for an agreement between AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA members -- who are still on strike.

In another high-stakes, unprecedented action, the United Auto Workers went on strike September 15 against the country's "Big Three" automakers, threatening to close down production at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

The simultaneous, strategically targeted strikes began with just 13,000 workers in three assembly factories in Missouri, Ohio and Michigan -- where slowing or halting production of a few parts could be as disruptive as a full strike, shutting down operations at all plants.

The strike expanded to 38 parts and distribution centers in 20 states last week, and ultimately could involve the collective 146,000 UAW members at all three companies.

On Tuesday, in an unprecedented show of support for organized labor, President Joe Biden became the first US president to join a picket line -- standing side-by-side with UAW members at a General Motors plant in Van Buren Township, Michigan.

Biden urged the striking auto workers to “stick with it” and repeated his contention that the auto companies have not gone far enough to meet union demands, especially after making concessions in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. “The fact of the matter," said Biden, "is that you guys, the UAW, you saved the automobile industry back in made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot. And the companies were in trouble. Now they’re doing incredibly well and guess what? You should be doing incredibly well.”

A majority of Americans appear to agree. According to an August 2023 Gallup poll, 67% of US adults support labor unions.

“Never forget that when our labor isn’t valued, we have the power to withhold it. We have the fundamental power of a strike. The cost of a strike might be high, but the cost of doing nothing is much higher.” - UAW President Shawn Fain

DemList will keep you informed.

DemDaily: Biden Backs UAW 9/15/23
DemDaily: Labor's Day 8/31/23
DemDaily: The Hollywood Revolution 7/19/23
DemDaily: Labor Backs Biden 6/20/23
DemDaily: Hollywood Rallies Around Writers Guild Strike 5/24/23
DemDaily: On Strike! 3/21/23
DemDaily: The Right to Strike 1/12/23

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: DOL, Cornell Labor Action Tracker, Bloomberg Law, Washington Post, Nerd Wallet, AP

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