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Work Stoppages ‘Reach Highest Level In Nearly Two Decades’ - United Auto Workers’ 40-Day Walkout At GM Plants ‘Was Largest Strike Started Last Year’

Published Wednesday, February 12, 2020
by Steve Wishnia/
Work Stoppages ‘Reach Highest Level In Nearly Two Decades’ - United Auto Workers’ 40-Day Walkout At GM Plants ‘Was Largest Strike Started Last Year’

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Led by a wave of walkouts by fed-up Teachers, the last two years have seen more American Workers go out on Strike than any time since the 1980s, according to figures released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on Tuesday (February 11th).

The BLS reported 425,500 Workers were involved in 25 “major work stoppages” that included 1,000 or more Workers and lasted at least one shift.

That was less than the 485,000 Strikers of 2018, but a huge increase over the near-record low of 25,000 in 2017.

While the number of Workers striking averaged more than one million a year in the 1970s, it fell off sharply after Republican President Ronald Reagan fired striking Air Traffic Controllers in 1981.

The last time the number of Strikers exceeded 400,000 was in 1989.

“These Strike statistics represent nothing less than a sea change in America,” National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “Working People - completely fed up with an economic and political system that does not work for us - are turning to each other and using every tool at our disposal to win a better deal.”

There were 10 Strikes last year that involved more than 20,000 Workers, with the six-week walkout by 46,000 United Auto Workers (UAW) Members seeking a better contract with General Motors (GM) the biggest in terms of lost workdays.

But almost two-thirds of 2019’s Strikers were Teachers and other Education Workers: Six of the 10 largest strikes were by Teachers in North Carolina, West Virginia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Kentucky and Oregon.

The year’s other massive Strikes were by the: United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) at Stop & Shop supermarkets, for 11 days in April; The one-day walkouts by Service and Technical Workers at the University of California, represented by American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 and University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE)-Communications Workers of America (CWA) 9119; and a four-day Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) Strike against AT&T Southeast by the CWA in August, which the Union called “the largest Private Sector Strike in the South in a decade.” 

Currently, the longest-running Strike, according to the BLS, is by about 1,800 Members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 3 at the Spectrum Cable-TV Network owned by Charter Communications, which has gone on for almost three years.

The BLS figures also count locked-out Workers as Strikers, but they underestimate the total number of striking Workers, because they don’t include work stoppages that involve less than 1,000 workers or last less than one full shift - such as the mini-Strikes by Fast Food Workers or the Strikes by and lockouts of Orchestra Musicians employed in Chicago and Baltimore.

Three factors likely have contributed to the dramatic increase in Strikes.

Support for Labor Unions has resurged significantly.

Many employers are seeking concessions - such as having Workers pay more for health care, as General Motors and Stop & Shop tried.

Spectrum, which wants to eliminate Workers’ pensions and is operating with strikebreakers while trying to decertify IBEW Local 3, might be the most aggressively intransigent.

And wages are being outstripped by the escalating costs of necessities like housing, health care, and education.

“While unemployment ‘is low, wages have not increased to keep up with the cost of living,’” National AFL-CIO spokesperson Kalina Newman told LaborPress.

“Workers are concluding that if even a sub-four-percent unemployment rate is not providing them with enough leverage to secure robust wage growth, they must join together to demand a fair share of the recovery,” the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said in its analysis.

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