The labor movement roared back to life this year, and everyone from factory floors to C-suite offices has taken notice.
Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee conducted a hearing about the resurgence of unions in America. In his opening remarks as Chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) highlighted the 450,000 union workers that have gone on strike this year for better wages, benefits, and working conditions – a 900% increase compared to what we saw just two years ago. Many of these strikes have resulted in resounding victories for their members, with new contracts that will transform the lives of thousands of working families across the country for the better.
For this week’s Closer Look, we want to give you a rundown of some of the largest, most prominent strikes that have occurred this year, as well as what they achieved for their members.
NYC Nurses’ strike
In January, 7,000 nurses at two New York City hospitals – Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx – braced the winter cold and marched on picket lines. The strike ended after three days, with the nurses clinching a historic new contract that included, among other things, wage increases and mandates for improved staffing.
LA Educators’ strike
In March, 30,000 education workers – including gardeners, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and special education assistants – went on strike for three days against the Los Angeles Unified School District. In the end, the new contract that they negotiated included their key demand: a 30% pay increase.
In May, 11,500 screenwriters from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The strike officially ended on September 27; it represented the second-longest strike in the union’s history. Writers came out of the struggle victorious, with a historic new contract that secured, among other things, compensation and residual pay increases, benefit boosts, staff size and employment length guarantees, and protections against Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In July, nearly 150,000 actors and performers from the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) joined their WGA counterparts on the picket line against the AMPTP. It was the first time since 1960 – when none other than Ronald Reagan was President of SAG – that actors and writers went on strike simultaneously. The strike finally came to an end last week after a tentative deal was struck between the parties. Their new contract included, among other things, compensation increases, streaming bonuses (in addition to residual payments), limits on AI use, and relocation bonuses.
UPS strike threat
Sometimes even just the mere threat of a strike is enough to do the trick. In August, some 300,000 UPS workers represented by the Teamsters union almost went on strike, but a deal was struck at the eleventh hour. Theirs would have been the largest strike in US history and also one of the costliest. Their new contract secured historic pay increases and working condition improvements, particularly a requirement for air conditioning in new trucks.
In September, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, representing some 150,000 workers, officially went on strike against the “Big Three” automakers – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. It was the largest strike by active employees in the US in 25 years. The strike also helped President Biden make history: he became the first sitting US president to join a picket line after he visited a protest outside a General Motors plant in Michigan. The strike ended at the end of last month after six weeks; over the course of five days, the UAW secured tentative deals with all three automakers. New contracts included, among other things, a 25% pay increase over four and a half years, cost-of-living adjustments, and the elimination of a two-tier wage system that privileged more senior workers.
Kaiser Permanente strike
In October, 75,000 union employees from Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest health care companies, went on a three-day strike. It was the largest health care strike in US history. In the end, their efforts secured a new contract which included pay increases and a commitment from the company to address staffing shortages.
Las Vegas Hotel Workers’ strike threat
Just like their UPS counterparts, the mere threat of a strike from 35,000 Las Vegas hospitality workers was enough to force three of the largest Las Vegas casino operators – MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, and Wynn Resorts – to come to the table. Last week, members of two unions representing the hotel workers clinched tentative contracts that secured, among other things, pay increases, reduced workloads, and mandated daily hotel room cleanings.
With these strikes, Americans have been able to witness first-hand what unions are capable of achieving, and it’s clear they’ve liked what they’ve seen. According to recent public polls, no fewer than 67% of Americans now support unions. They’ve even become inspired to organize themselves, as demonstrated with high-profile organizing drives at places like Amazon, Starbucks, REI, and Apple.
There’s one notable absence, however, to the union cheerleading party: corporations. Corporations have always known union workers are better positioned to demand fair compensation. Research has found that workers belonging to unions make roughly 20% more than their nonunion counterparts. Union workers also have better benefits: while just 11% of nonunion workers have defined benefit pension plans, 64% of union workers do.
Corporations would much rather protect their profit margins (not to mention, shareholders’ dividends and executives’ paychecks) rather than invest money in their workers. To that end, they are pulling out all the stops to prevent their workers from unionizing. Starbucks and Amazon have received mountains of citations from the National Labor Relations Board in their ongoing, vicious union-busting campaigns. Those companies and more also utilize mandatory captive audience meetings with their workers to try to dissuade them from starting and joining unions. Inversely, Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda have recently raised wages in an apparent attempt to dissuade their workers from joining the UAW. This is a great example of what we have said many times before: when unions win better wages, wages go up for workers across the sector, regardless of whether or not those workers are unionized.
If corporations were smart, they would realize that unionized workforces serve their best interests. Paying workers better wages and benefits might affect their bottom lines in the short term, but it will help them – and the country – in the long term. If workers feel that they are being treated with respect and dignity and as equal partners in their work, they will be more loyal to their employers and more productive, which will help companies turn profits. Moreover, it would grow the consumer base and expand the economy because their workers are their customers. If their customers aren’t paid enough to buy their products, they’ll go out of business.
This year, unions have flexed their muscles and demonstrated to Americans how organized labor is a win-win for the country and for workers. Americans are looking at unions more favorably, and it’s time for corporations to do the same.