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Workplace Walk-outs and Strikes This Year Have More than Doubled

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Unions have engaged in over 240 major strikes this year, doubling the number from last year. Some have labeled the situation "strike-tober." The causes show an increased self-confidence and militancy on the part of employees.

First, workers are scarce and they know it. They can quit or strike with the confidence that they are unlikely to be permanently replaced, and that they can simply find a job elsewhere, as a temporary or permanent job. Further, they can strike knowing that the current administration supports their strike activity. President Biden recently stated in connection with the strike at John Deere: "My message is they have a right to strike and they have a right to demand higher wages."  The Deere workers rejected an initial settlement of about a 5.5% wage increase for the first year, and then rejected a second settlement of around a 10% wage increase for the first year, before finally ratifying a contract. One of the issues in the Deere negotiations and so many other negotiations pertain to two-tier programs, in which newly-hired employees do not receive the same rates of pay as more senior employees. With respect to the strike at Kellogg, President Biden publicly criticized the company when it stated it was going to exercise its legal right to hire permanent replacements for the striking workers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has become the most pro-union since the 1930s. President Biden has even set up a task force to find ways that more pro-union policies can be implemented without new laws.

While only 10.8% of the U.S. workforce belongs to unions, and even less in the private sector, opinion polls suggest that 68% of Americans support unions, up significantly from a decade ago. Workers may now believe they have the upper hand and they know they have an ally in the White House.  Historically, workers are more likely to strike when their jobs seem more secure due to the labor shortages.

Labor militancy has also spread to organizing campaigns, the prime examples being union efforts to organize Amazon and most recently Starbucks. At Amazon in Alabama, the NLRB Regional Director ordered another election, primarily because Amazon asked the postal service to set up a mailbox for mail ballots near the facility, which the NLRB called intimidating. Unions have won two elections recently in the New York area at a single Starbucks store, under the current NLRB concept of allowing smaller voting units, called "micro-units," which gives unions a better chance to win than larger voting units. Starbucks, with its extremely progressive public image on most issues, uses the approach of arguing that a labor organization would interfere with the direct relationship it has with its workers.

Employees read reports about executives making a lot of money, and companies having high profit levels. Unions are trying to reclaim concessions they have made in recent years. When its workers read about strikes elsewhere, many of which are "successful," they see what they can win by going on strike.

For those employers interested in developing long-term plans to prevent unionization, Wimberly & Lawson conducts audits of company vulnerability to such campaigns, along with generic policies, posters, handouts and other materials useful to run a union-free campaign, along with providing management and supervisory training.

This is part of our January 2022 Newsletter.

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