Workers are getting bolder. The number of strikes tripled from last year as Americans see their wages shrink and bosses profit.
- More workers have gone on strike in the first half of 2022 than in all of 2021.
- According to Cornell University's School of Industrial Labor Relations, the number of picketers has tripled.
Inflation woes and increased bargaining power have created a perfect storm of conditions for workers, who have joined picket lines in increasing numbers since the pandemic began.
That's according to a labor action tracker created by researchers at Cornell University's School of Industrial Labor Relations, which tallied 180 strikes involving about 78,000 workers in the first half of 2022. That's in comparison to 102 strikes last year, with about 26,500 workers.
In short, more workers have gone on strike in 2022 than in 2021 — and that's still with six months of data left to track. It comes as the National Labor Relations Board sees both an uptick in union representation petitions and unfair labor practice charges.
Post-vaccine 2021 into 2022 has marked an uptick in organizing and increasing pushback from workers on the previous status quo. Many found the realities of their work laid bare during the pandemic, or suddenly made essential, and took matters into their own hands, whether through unionizing or just up and quitting. That all came against the backdrop of companies raking in their highest corporate profits in over 70 years.
Many workers also saw contract negotiations stalled by the pandemic, as was the case with unionized railroad workers, who threatened to strike just this week over better working conditions and benefits, such as sick leave. They reached an agreement with railroad companies, avoiding the immediate possibility of strikes that could have crippled the US economy.
In general, Americans haven't been this pro-union in nearly 60 years, according to a recent Gallup poll. Workers at companies like Starbucks, Trader Joe's, and Amazon are seeing historic union wins. Several factors are likely responsible: the Great Resignation caused workers to reconsider their relationship with their jobs, and seek out better pay and working conditions. Organizing workers are also frequently citing inflation as a reason to strike, as they fight for wages to stay above the growing cost of living. On top of all of that, workers are experiencing the scales tipping just a little bit more towards them for the moment — and they're seizing that opportunity to ask for more.
"From when President Biden's taken office, we're seeing more interest in people organizing to join unions," US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told Insider in August.
Inflation is influencing worker strikes globally
According to a survey of 5,000 companies done by compensation analysis company Payscale, 92% of companies gave pay increases in 2022, up 7% from 2021 and 25% from 2020. But 85% of the businesses said they were worried about inflation cutting into wage increases.
And it did — the hot labor market gave workers rare bargaining power as companies became desperate to fill open roles, leading to those wage increases across industries, but only outpacing inflation in a select few. At the same time, workers saw CEO pay rise well above theirs — even as they kept firms going during the thick of the pandemic. That helped propel last fall's Striketober, which saw thousands of workers go on strike.
And although the pandemic-era labor shortage is starting to shrink, there's still a way to go before worker supply is back to pre-crisis levels.
All that explains why workers want to fight for better conditions, and why they have leverage — and it looks like inflation is only adding fuel to the fire.
Just two in five workers who received a pay raise in the past year — or found a better-paying job — said that their income either kept pace with or rose faster than consumer prices, according to a recent Bankrate survey. Half of these same workers said that their incomes fell behind.
"Inflation that has run at the highest levels in more than four decades has stripped buying power away from households of all walks of life," Greg McBride, Bankrate's chief financial analyst, said in a statement. "Even half of those receiving a pay raise, getting a promotion, or taking on new responsibilities said that higher pay falls short of the increase in household expenses."
That vulnerability to inflation is a global phenomenon: airlines canceled hundreds of flights in France this weekend due to air traffic controller strikes, with organizing workers specifically citing stalled wages amid rising inflation as a primary reason for walking off the job.
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