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How Many Strikes Are There In The U.S.?

Published Tuesday, June 1, 2021
by Johnnie Kallas, Eli Friedman & Dana Trentalange/Via LaborNotes
How Many Strikes Are There In The U.S.?

How many strikes are there in the United States?  It’s a question with obvious importance to Labor Activists, yet there is no readily accessible answer.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases an annual Work Stoppage Summary in February that reports on the number of strikes and lockouts over the prior year - but only those that involved at least 1,000 Workers and lasted an entire shift.

This is especially problematic because nearly 60% of all Private Sector Workers are employed by companies with fewer than 1,000 Employees.

Even many of those who work at big firms are in Bargaining Units or workplaces with under 1,000 Workers.

The BLS kept track of all work stoppages involving six Workers or more and lasting at least a full shift until 1982, when cuts by the then Reagan Administration diminished resources for Labor research and statistics.

According to BLS data, strikes increased significantly in 2018 and 2019 - after a long decline - before returning to historic lows in 2020, but we cannot know for certain how accurate a picture this is since the BLS excludes a sizable amount of Strike activity by only capturing big strikes.

Even the ongoing Strike by the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, owned by Tenet Healthcare - one of the country’s largest for-profit hospital chains, is left out of the BLS data, because the Strike involves just 800 Nurses.

This gap in our understanding of Strike activity is a serious limitation for our knowledge about the Labor Movement.

To help fill this void, the ILR Labor Action Tracker has been created.

It is housed at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR), to more accurately track strikes and Labor protests across the U.S.

One important advance is that Cornell ILR tracker also includes Labor protests, such as rallies and informational pickets.

That means it includes the recent rally by 2,000 Food Delivery Drivers in New York City, who are demanding better pay and improved health and safety.

It also includes a multi-city action by Tribune Publishing Employees – those who work for newspapers like The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun - to prevent the sale of the company to a hedge fund.

Considering the vast legal and economic obstacles to striking, it is important to capture these types of events to show the wide range of tactics used by U.S. Workers in the 21st Century.

Users are able to search the Cornell ILR’s interactive map for strikes and Labor protests separately or both types of actions together.

However, the two are based on whether a temporary stoppage of work occurred as part of the action.

This definition of a Strike is relatively inclusive, covering actions like wildcats and sickouts.

In some cases, such as the national days of action associated with the Fight For 15 Campaign, it can be particularly difficult to determine whether the action should be labeled a Strike or Labor protest - but if the action can convincingly demonstrate, based on the sources cited, that a collective stoppage of work occurred as part of the protest, the tracker will be added that event as a Strike.

Full information about Cornell ILR’s methodology, including how actions are added to the tracker and the other variables captured, can be found here.

To Read This Labor News Report In Its Entirety, Go To:


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