Number of striking US workers more than doubled last year, study shows

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(NEW YORK) — The number of striking workers in the U.S. more than doubled last year due to massive work stoppages carried out by autoworkers, nurses and Hollywood writers and actors, according to a study released by Cornell University on Thursday.

The total number of striking workers climbed 141% in 2023, amounting to nearly 540,000 workers who walked off the job, the report found.

“This rise in strike action after many years of diminished activity indicates a union resurgence that is shifting the balance of power back toward labor,” Alexander Colvin, dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told ABC News in a statement.

Four large strikes accounted for more than half of the workers involved in work stoppages last year, the report said, pointing to multi-state campaigns among actors, autoworkers, healthcare employees, as well as an action carried out by school staff in Los Angeles.

SAG-AFTRA, a union representing roughly 160,000 actors, went out on strike for nearly 120 days, culminating in a 3-year contract that raised wages by roughly 14%.

The United Auto Workers, a union representing 150,000 employees at major car markers, ended a weekslong strike after a set of agreements that delivered a roughly 25% raise over a 4-year period.

Roughly 75,000 healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente won major wage gains after a work stoppage, as did thousands of TV writers.

The total number of work stoppages ticked up by 9% in 2023 compared to the previous year, due to the sizable share of workers who participated in large strikes, the report said.

The sharp escalation in worker protests arose from widespread dissatisfaction with sluggish wage gains, which in many cases had failed to keep up with rapid price hikes, experts previously told ABC News.

Over a four-decade period beginning in the late-1970s, wages largely flattened, increasing 0.2% per year on an inflation-adjusted basis for a typical worker, a Harvard Business Review analysis found.

The cumulative effects of sluggish wage growth collided with sky-high inflation in recent years, leaving workers frustrated over diminished spending power, Johnnie Kallas, project director of Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker, previously told ABC News.

Despite the surge in work stoppages last year, union membership stagnated. In 2023, the unionization rate among private sector employees stood at 6%, little changed from the previous year, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in January.

The private sector unionization rate has generally trended down over four decades since the U.S. began collecting data, in 1983, when the rate stood at about 17%, the BLS said.

Still, last year brought a surge in strikes in the private sector, in contrast with the burst of labor militancy five years ago mostly among public school teachers, Johnnie Kallas, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, who founded Cornell University’s Labor Action Tracker, told ABC News in a statement.

“Large strikes were much more dispersed this past year throughout numerous private sector industries,” Kallas said.

 

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