Workers went on strike in increasing numbers last year as they took advantage of a tight labor market and pressured employers for better wages and working conditions, two new data sets suggest.
Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released Wednesday show almost 121,000 workers participated in 23 big strikes that started in 2022. That’s of 81,000 workers participating in 16 large work stoppages in 2021. The office defines a “large” work stoppage as one involving at least 1,000 employees.
meanwhile one more detailed study from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations identified at least 424 work stoppages of all sizes last year, up from 279 the year before, or an increase of 52%. The work stoppages involved at least 224,000 workers, up from 140,000 in 2021, or a 60% increase.
Both the BLS and Cornell data include lockouts, that is, when employers force workers off the job amid a labor dispute, rather than workers leaving by choice. But lockouts accounted for a small share of overall work stoppages (just seven of the 424 Cornell found), and all of the large work stoppages in the BLS findings were strikes.
“Overall, the majority of employees involved in last year’s strikes, a staggering 60%, work in education.”
Unemployment hovered at record lows last year, making it harder for employers to find workers and giving employees more leverage to demand better jobs.
But even as the number of strikes increased last year, far fewer American workers are going on strike now than decades ago, largely because of unions. shrinking footprint in the economy Workers with union protections are much more likely to leave work to improve their working conditions, and only 1 in 10 American workers now belong to a union, compared to one estimate 1 in 3 in the 1950s.
“While we document an increase in strikes and the approximate number of striking workers in 2022 compared to 2021, the level of strike activity is lower than in previous historical times,” the Cornell researchers noted.
The sector that saw the most strikes last year was food and lodging, which accounted for 34% of all work stoppages, according to Cornell. Most of those strikes were small and brief, involving Starbucks workers who mounted a historic organizing drive with Union Workers United over the past year, or fast-food workers affiliated with the Fight for $15 campaign.
Overall, most of the employees involved in last year’s strikes (an astonishing 60%) work in education. Those strikes tended to be larger and longer than strikes in the food industry. More than 135,000 education workers went on strike for a total of 2.5 million days, according to the Cornell study.
The largest walkout last year was in the University of California system, where 48,000 teaching assistants, graduate student researchers, postdoctoral fellows and other academic workers he left work for 40 days. It is believed to be the largest higher education strike in US history. finished in december with an agreement between the university and the United Auto Workers Union that increased wages by up to 80% for some workers.
Cornell researchers also looked at the stated reasons why workers went on strike and found that the most common demands included “better pay, better health and safety, and more staff.” A growing number of workers also called for an “end to union busting” and the reinstatement of the laid-off workers.
The Supreme Court recently heard a case that could weaken workers’ ability to strike by exposing unions to lawsuits by striking employers. Like HuffPost recently reportedthat could make workers less likely to go on strike in the first place if they know that companies could claim damages associated with the work stoppage through litigation.
The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, warned Wednesday in a analysis in strike data that a ruling in favor of the employers could have a devastating impact on workers.
“If the Supreme Court is persuaded by this argument, it will overturn decades of precedent around the right to strike and leave workers with a significantly diminished ability to strike,” the authors wrote.
A decision in the case is expected later this year.