Govt. Report Says Labor Unrest Reaching Record Levels

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Feb 12, 2020
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that the year 2019 saw 25 major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting at least one shift, well above the past decade's average of 15 per year. Beyond the number of work stoppages (which encompassed both strikes and lockouts), the number of people involved in the stoppages has also boomed: Last year had 425,000 workers involved in major work stoppages, of whom 270,000 were in the educational services industry; both figures were far beyond the past decade's average of 147,660. 

In 2019, the largest stoppage, measured by lost workdays, was the dispute between General Motors (GM) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) involving 46,000 workers. The work stoppage began on Sept. 16, 2019, and continued for 29 working days resulting in a cumulative loss of 1,334,000 work days. Since 1993, there have been a total of 22 work stoppages involving GM, and the one beginning in 2019 was the fifth largest in terms of number of workers involved, and second largest in terms of cumulative lost workdays. The largest GM stoppage occurred in 1998 and involved 152,200 workers and over 3 million work days lost.

The 2019 figures are part what seems to be a sudden spike in labor conflict. Major work stoppages in 2017 had actually reached record lows, with only seven being reported, the lowest figure since 1947. But then, in 2018, those numbers jumped to 20 major work stoppages involving 485,000 workers. With 2019 showing even more work stoppages than that, one might argue that the country is currently in a state of heightened labor conflict. This lines up with previous reports that workers are becoming increasingly bold in confronting their own company's CEO.  For instance, Amazon employees are currently protesting to improve working conditions at its warehouses, which they describe as brutal, and a separate protest is trying to get the firm to do more about climate change. 

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