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How Many Strikes Are There in the U.S.?

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Johnnie Kallas

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 reporting 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 percent 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 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 at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester—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.

NEW LABOR ACTION TRACKER

This gap in our understanding of strike activity is a serious limitation for our knowledge about the labor movement. To help fill this void, we have created the ILR Labor Action Tracker, housed at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, to more accurately track strikes and labor protests across the U.S. (Unlike the BLS, we are not currently collecting data on lockouts, though we hope to add that data in the future.)

One important advance is that our 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 demanding better pay and improved health and safety. It also includes a multi-city action by Tribune Publishing employees—who work for newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun—to prevent the sale of the company to a hedge fund.

Considering the vast legal and economic obstacles to striking, we believe 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 our interactive map for strikes and labor protests separately or both types of actions together.

We distinguish between strikes and labor protests 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 we can convincingly demonstrate, based on the sources we cite, that a collective stoppage of work occurred as part of the protest, we will add that event to our tracker as a strike. Full information about our methodology, including how we add actions to our tracker and the other variables we capture, can be found here.

A DIFFERENT PICTURE

We began tracking strikes in late 2020, though our database is most reliable beginning in March 2021. We have discovered a much different reality of strike and protest activity in the United States than existing sources indicate.

We found that 28 strikes occurred during the month of April alone. That includes all strikes that began after January 1, 2021, and were still ongoing at some point in April. This stands in stark contrast to recent annual data from the BLS, which identified just seven major work stoppages in all of 2017, 20 in 2018, 25 in 2019, and eight in 2020. The BLS documented just six strikes in April; among the strikes it excluded were the aforementioned walkout by 800 Massachusetts nurses at St. Vincent Hospital, a strike for a first contract by 200 faculty members at the Oregon Institute of Technology, and a strike by 24 distribution workers fighting for a pay increase after a four-year wage freeze at N.H. Scheppers Distributing in Missouri, among many others.

While we know that more strikes are occurring than existing data would indicate, we recognize that strike activity today is nowhere near the levels seen in the mid-20th century. For example, the BLS identified an average of 821 work stoppages (both strikes and lockouts, involving six workers or more and lasting at least a full shift) for the month of April during the 1970s, before the Reagan administration’s cuts forced the agency to only capture major events. Additional research is needed to generate more rigorous and informative historical comparisons.

Workers face immense obstacles to organizing and striking that have only become more pronounced over the past few decades. We hope that our project will amplify the voices of striking and protesting workers, as well as draw attention to these obstacles.

We welcome any feedback on how to make this tool more useful for workers and the labor movement. Our project aims to democratize data and inform labor activists about labor actions in their communities. Going forward, we hope to more accurately capture labor protests and pinpoint the location of ongoing strikes based on the address of a major picket line, which should help local activists support striking workers.

We are aiming to be as comprehensive as possible (especially on strikes)—so if you notice that we are missing a strike or labor protest, please use the report button on our website or fill out this Google form.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on May 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the authors: Johnnie Kallas, a former labor organizer, is a PhD student at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and director of the ILR Labor Action Tracker. Eli Friedman is a professor and chair of the Department of International and Comparative Labor at the ILR School. He serves as faculty advisor of the Labor Action Tracker. Dana Trentalange, another former labor organizer, is a recent graduate student of the master’s program at the ILR School, and is the Labor Action Tracker’s coordinator and social media strategist.


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Labor Department tells senators it’s too ‘complex’ to collect sexual harassment data

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The Labor Department told Democratic senators that it can’t collect data on sexual harassment in the workplace because it would be “complex and costly.” On Monday, Democratic senators dismissed that justification.

In January, 22 Democratic senators sent a letter to labor department officials requesting the department act on studying sexual harassment. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) signed the letter and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and others co-signed the letter, according toBuzzFeed.

Referring to the #MeToo movement, the letter noted that “there has not been an exact accounting of the extent of this discrimination and the magnitude of its economic costs on the labor force. We therefore request your agencies work to collect this data.”

CNN was the first to obtain the Labor Department’s response, which was addressed to Gillibrand. The department’s letter read, “There are a number of steps involved in any new data collection, including consultation with experts, cognitive testing, data collection training, and test collection. Once test collection is successful, there is an extensive clearance process before data collection can begin.”

The department went on to say that employers would have difficulty providing the information they’re requesting and that requesting additional information for the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey “may have detrimental effects on survey response.”

The letter mentions “alternative sources of information on sexual harassment,” such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, but senators sent a letter in response that essentially balked at that recommendation.

“…the Department is surely aware that not all sexual harassment rises to the level of a violent criminal act and therefore would not be captured by this survey,” the letter read.

Senators called the justifications for declining to work on the issue “wholly inadequate” and wrote that since they “hope that the Department would always consider rigorous methods inherent in data collection,” the department’s mention of its complexity should not justify the decision to not study sexual harassment. Senators also mentioned that the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board did this type of data collection and analysis in the ’80s and that “Surely the government’s capacity to collect this data has only become more sophisticated over the past several decades.”

Senators from both parties asked the labor secretary to take some kind of action on sexual harassment at an April Senate panel on the budget. According to Bloomberg, at the time, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta “expressed willingness to act.”

Many researchers have looked at the economic cost to harassed women themselves. Heather McLaughlin, an assistant professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, has studied the career effects of sexual harassment and found that a lot of the women who quit jobs because of sexual harassment changed careers and chose fields where they expected less harassment. But that meant that some of those fields were female-dominated, and many female-dominated fields pay less. Some women were more interested in working by themselves after the harassment.

” … but certainly they’re being shuffled into fields that are associated with lower pay because of the harassment,” McLaughlin told Marketplace.

People who have been harassed also experience effects on their physical and mental health, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of sexual harassment can also experience headaches, muscle aches, and high blood pressure.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. women said they received inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances from men, with 23 percent saying those advances came from men who had influence over their careers and 30 percent coming from male co-workers, according to a 2017 ABC News/Washington Post poll.

“Right now, we don’t know how many gifted workers and innovators were unable to contribute to our country because they were forced to choose between working in a harassment-free workplace and their career,” Gillibrand wrote in her January letter to the department.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


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OSHA’s Claims About Hiding Information on Worker Deaths Fall Flat

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Since January, government agencies under the Donald Trump administration have taken steps to hide information from the public–information that was previously posted and information that the public has a right to know.

But a recent move is especially personal. Two weeks ago, the agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety and health—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—removed the names of fallen workers from its home page and has stopped posting information about their deaths on its data page. In an attempt to justify this, the agency made two major claims discussed below. Like many efforts to decrease transparency by this administration, these claims are unfounded, and the agency whose mission is to protect workers from health and safety hazards is clearly in denial that it has a job to do. Here’s how:

OSHA claim #1: Not all worker deaths listed on the agency website were work-related because OSHA hasn’t issued or yet issued a citation for their deaths.

Fact: It is public knowledge that 1) OSHA doesn’t have the jurisdiction to investigate about two-thirds of work-related deaths but does issue guidance on a wide variety of hazards to workers that extend beyond their enforcement reach, and 2) OSHA citations are not always issued for work-related deaths because of a variety of reasons, including limitations of existing OSHA standards and a settlement process that allows employers to remedy certain hazards in lieu of citation. (The laborious process for OSHA to develop standards deserves a completely separate post.) But neither of those points mean the agency cannot recognize where and when workers are dying on the job, and remember and honor those who sought a paycheck but, instead, did not return home to their families.

In fact, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, also housed in the Department of Labor, counts and reports the number of work-related deaths each year. The agency reported that in 2015, 4,836 working people died of work-related traumatic injury—”the highest annual figure since 2008.” So, another agency already has taken care of that for OSHA (whew!). But this is just a statistic. Luckily for OSHA, employers are required to report every fatality on the job to OSHA within eight hours, so the agency has more specific information that can be used for prevention, including the names of the workers and companies involved, similar to the information the public has about deaths that occur in any other setting (outside of work).

OSHA claim #2: Deceased workers’ families do not want the names and circumstances surrounding their loved ones’ death shared.

Fact: Removing the names of fallen workers on the job is an incredible insult to working families. The shock of hearing that your family member won’t be coming home from work that day is devastating enough, but then to hear that their death was preventable, and often the hazards were simply ignored by their employer, is pure torture. The organization made up of family members who had a loved one die on the job has stated repeatedly that it wants the names of their loved ones and information surrounding their deaths shared. It does not want other families to suffer because of something that could have been prevented. The organization has made it very clear that it opposes OSHA’s new “out of sight, out of mind” approach.

So why shield this information from the public? We know the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have long opposed publication of this information. The Trump administration seems to live by very old—and very bad—advice from powerful, big business groups whose agenda it’s pushing: If we don’t count the impact of the problem or admit there is a problem, it must not exist.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on September 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Reindel is a senior health and safety specialist at the AFL-CIO.


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Trump blocks Obama effort to combat pay discrimination

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Former President Obama intended to fight pay discrimination with a rule requiring businesses to track how much they pay different groups of workers. You know the next part, right? Of course you do. Donald Trump is blocking the rule from going into effect as scheduled next spring because it’s just too hard for businesses to report how much they pay their workers.

“It’s enormously burdensome,” said Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which analyzes the cost of federal rules and regulations. “We don’t believe it would actually help us gather information about wage and employment discrimination.”

Which part of that do you think is more important—that it’s burdensome or that they don’t believe it would help gather information? Or the unstated third reason that Donald Trump and his underlings don’t want to hold businesses accountable for discrimination anyway. This burden, by the way, amounts to putting extra information on a form that businesses already fill out. That information about how much women vs. men are paid, or workers of color vs. white workers seems like it would be helpful to uncovering discrimination. The Obama administration certainly thought so:

“We’d learn about a pay-discrimination problem because someone saw a piece of paper left on a copy machine or someone was complaining about their salary to co-workers,” leading others to realize they were being underpaid, said Jenny Yang, who was chairwoman of the EEOC when the rules were drafted, at NYU School of Law’s Annual Conference on Labor in June.

“Having pay data in summary form will also help us identify patterns that may warrant further investigation,” Ms. Yang said.

Self-proclaimed equal pay champion Ivanka Trump is right on board with the messaging against this effort to promote equal pay, by the way.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos Labor on August 30, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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