Labor strikes are unlikely to diminish as the ‘Hot Strike Summer’ concludes

Labor strikes are unlikely to diminish as the 'Hot Strike Summer' concludes
Labor strikes are unlikely to diminish as the 'Hot Strike Summer' concludes
Labor Strike – Hot Strike Summer

Key Insights:

  • Amidst an ongoing wave of significant labor strikes, 2023 has earned the moniker of the “summer of strikes.” However, this surge aligns with a broader trend of increased labor stoppages in recent times.
  • The realm of union activity, including strikes, has exhibited consistent growth since the year 2009.
  • Public sentiment towards labor unions currently rests at multi-decade highs, though this sentiment varies markedly along political lines

How Numerous Are the Strikes of 2023?

Between the inception of this year and the conclusion of August, the United States witnessed the commencement of 252 strikes, in stark contrast to the 414 recorded for the entirety of 2022. These statistics are drawn from the Cornell-ILR Labor Action Tracker, a comprehensive observer of strike and labor protest actions nationwide.
Among these strikes, 16 have reached the classification of major work stoppages, indicating the participation of no fewer than 1,000 laborers, as per preliminary 2023 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The Surge in Strike Incidence Following the 2009 Nadir:

The frequency of strikes, along with public attitudes towards unions, experienced a precipitous drop during the Great Recession era, with merely five major work stoppages recorded in 2009. Subsequently, labor activity displayed an upward trajectory as economic conditions ameliorated, although it remained historically subdued throughout much of the 2010s.
A resurgence in union activity transpired during 2018 and 2019 when the aggregated annual average of laborers participating in major work stoppages reached a 35-year pinnacle, as affirmed by the Economic Policy Institute.
Post a pandemic-induced hiatus, labor activity has returned to pre-pandemic levels. With 16 major work stoppages transpiring in the first eight months of 2023, the year appears poised to emulate the strike frequency observed in 2019, which marked the highest tally of major strikes since 2001.

2023 Strikes in the Context of Union History’s Heyday:

While the volume of strikes in 2022 and 2023 is substantial in comparison to the past decade, it pales in comparison to the monumental strikes that punctuated American history, particularly during the twentieth century when labor unions enjoyed heightened activity. The peak of major work stoppages occurred in 1952, with an average of approximately 211 strikes annually between 1947 and 1999.

Surging Public Affection for Labor Unions:

Public sentiment regarding labor unions is currently more favorable than it has been in several decades. A Gallup survey reveals that in 2023, over two-thirds (67%) of Americans express approval of labor unions, despite a marginal decrease from the 2022 figure of 71%.
Remarkably, this marks the seventh consecutive year in which labor union approval has exceeded the 60% threshold, a rate scarcely witnessed since the 1960s. Approval ratings for unions reached a nadir of 48% in 2009.

Partisan Divide on Union Endorsement:

While the majority of the American populace endorses labor unions, this support varies considerably across the political spectrum. In 2023, 88% of Democrats extend their approval to unions, in contrast to 69% of independents and 47% of Republicans.

Significant Ongoing and Potential Strikes in 2023:

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), representing approximately 160,000 members, have persisted in their strike action for more than 100 days, effectively halting much of Hollywood’s operations.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) union, representing around 150,000 workers, recently voted to authorize a strike that could commence on September 14 if an agreement cannot be reached with Detroit’s automotive giants: General Motors Co. (GM), Stellantis N.V. (STLA), and Ford Motor Co. (F). Such a strike could potentially result in a staggering $5.6 billion economic impact.
Furthermore, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, in a recent vote, authorized a strike if American Airlines (AAL) fails to meet their demands, potentially leading to the grounding of one of the United States’ largest airlines.

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