The number of workers on strike surged last year as they took advantage of a tight labor market and pressured employers for better pay and working conditions, according to two new sets of data.
Figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released on Wednesday show almost 121,000 workers participated in 23 major strikes that began in 2022. That an increase from 81,000 workers participating in 16 major work stoppages in 2021. The bureau defines a “major” work stoppage as one involving at least a thousand employees.
Meanwhile, more a detailed study 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 a 52% increase. The work stoppages involved at least 224,000 workers, up from 140,000 in 2021, or a 60% jump.
Both the BLS and Cornell data include lockouts — that’s when employers force workers to quit amid labor disputes, rather than the workers walking out by choice. But the lockouts represented a small share of the overall work stoppages (just seven of the 424 found by Cornell), and all the major work stoppages in the BLS results were strikes.
“Overall, most of the employees involved in last year’s strikes – a whopping 60% – work in education.”
Unemployment hit historic lows last year, making it harder for employers to find workers and giving employees more leverage to demand improvements to their jobs.
But while the number of strikes increased last year, far fewer US workers go on strike now than decades ago, largely because of labor unions. look for shrinkage in the economy. Workers with union protections are far more likely to walk off the job to improve their working conditions, and only 1 in 10 US workers now belong to a union, compared to an estimate 1 in 3 in the 1950s.
“Although we documented an uptick in strikes and the estimated number of workers on strike in 2022 compared to 2021, the level of strike activity is lower than in previous historical eras,” the Cornell researchers noted.
The sector with the most strikes last year was food and accommodation, accounting for 34% of all work stoppages, according to Cornell. Most of those strikes were small and short, involving Starbucks workers who have mounted a historic organizing drive with the Workers United union over the past year, or fast food workers affiliated with the Fight for $15 campaign.
Overall, the majority of employees involved in last year’s strikes — a whopping 60% — work in education. These strikes tended to be larger and longer than the food industry walkouts. More than 135,000 education workers were out for a total of 2.5 million strike days, according to the Cornell study.
The largest strike last year was in the University of California system, home to 48,000 teaching assistants, graduate researchers, postdoctoral fellows and other academic workers. he walked away from work for 40 days. It is believed to be the largest higher education strike in US history ended in December with an agreement between the university and the United Auto Workers union that raised wages by up to 80% for some workers.
Cornell researchers also analyzed the reasons cited by workers who went on strike, finding that “better wages, improved health and safety, and more staff were the most common demands”. A growing number of workers also demanded an “end to the anti-union campaign” and the reinstatement of the fired workers.
The Supreme Court recently heard a case that could weaken workers’ ability to strike by opening up unions to lawsuits by striking employers. As HuffPost recently reported reportedwhich made workers less likely to strike in the first place if they knew that companies could pursue damages related to the work stoppage through litigation.
The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, warned on Wednesday in a situation where analysis on strike data that ruling in favor of employers could have a devastating effect on workers.
“If this argument convinces the Supreme Court, it will overturn decades of precedent regarding the right to strike and leave workers with a greatly diminished ability to strike,” the authors wrote.
A decision in the case is expected later this year.