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Business News/ Industry / Labor Strikes Multiply as Workers Score Wins
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Labor Strikes Multiply as Workers Score Wins


The U.S. has lost seven million work days to walkouts so far this year, the most in more than two decades.

The UAW is striking at dozens of facilities owned by automakers General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis. Premium
The UAW is striking at dozens of facilities owned by automakers General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis.

Americans are walking off the job at a rate not seen in years for a simple reason: The strikes are working.

A confluence of factors is making this year one of the best in recent memory to strike. Strong demand for workers, new leadership atop some of the country’s biggest unions, broad public support and an advocate in the White House have helped workers win big concessions from employers at the bargaining table.

Eight strikes involving more than 1,000 workers each affected employers in August, matching the highest number since 2005, according to the Labor Department. The U.S. lost more than seven million workdays because of labor disputes this year through August, more than any full year since 2000—and the figures don’t include the United Auto Workers strike that started earlier this month.

The UAW is striking at dozens of facilities owned by automakers General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, demanding pay raises in the mid-30% range and an end to concessions it agreed to during the 2007-09 recession to keep the industry afloat.

And more walkouts could be coming. On Tuesday, the union representing 53,000 housekeepers, bartenders and other workers in Las Vegas voted to authorize a strike to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

Roughly 75,000 workers at healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente could go on a three-day strike next week for increased pay and higher staffing levels. And last month, more than 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines voted to authorize a strike as talks continue with the carrier over a new contract.

“Workers across this country are tired of our CEOs making millions of dollars while we are all struggling paycheck to paycheck," said Julie Hedrick, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents American Airlines workers.

Polls show a revival in public support for unions. Last year, 71% of Americans approved of labor unions, the highest share since 1965, according to Gallup. That number dipped slightly to 67% this year.

This week in Michigan, Joe Biden became the first sitting U.S. president to walk a picket line, and former President Donald Trump held an event with auto workers.

More than four decades ago, in 1981, President Ronald Reagan took a very different tack when he ordered the firing of nearly 13,000 striking air-traffic controllers. The strike grounded about 7,000 flights during the summer travel season and soured the country on organized labor, accelerating a steady decline in union membership.

Union members accounted for roughly 6% of private-sector workers last year, down from roughly 19% in 1981.

Strikes are proliferating as workers see them succeed.

This week, Hollywood writers who had walked off the job in May celebrated a new contract proposal granting them much of what they had asked for. A coalition of studios, networks and streaming services will give them more money from well-performing shows and some protections against the use of artificial intelligence.

Earlier this year, pilots for Delta Air Lines and American Airlines won raises of more than 30% over four years after voting to authorize a strike.

West Coast dockworkers deliberately slowed cargo operations to win a 32% raise through 2028 and a one-time “hero bonus."

And drivers at United Parcel Service represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reached a deal that will give them an 18% pay increase over five years, narrowly avoiding a strike. The deal brings the average pay and benefits for a full-time driver to $170,000 a year.

Auto workers have drawn inspiration from the Teamsters’ victory. Both unions are run by outspoken new leaders—Shawn Fain at the UAW and Sean O’Brien at the Teamsters—intent to prove to their members that they can deliver big wins.

“The Teamsters are teaching us all a lesson in fighting back," Fain told UPS workers at a rally in July, about two months before he led his members on strike.

“Is this the other bookend to the air-traffic-controllers’ strike, where organized labor can really say: ‘We’re back?’ " said Michael Lotito, a lawyer with Littler Mendelson who represents companies on workplace matters.

Changing economic conditions, such as the current, historically low unemployment rate and last year’s four-decade-high inflation, drove labor unions to bargain more aggressively than in the past, said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit.

But there is no guarantee those conditions will persist. An economic downturn could chill enthusiasm for walkouts, said Erica Groshen, former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I don’t think the strikes are large enough to tip the economy into recession on their own, but other things could," she said. “If the economy weakens, that could reduce strike activity."

Write to David Harrison at

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