Here’s a stat to celebrate on International Workers’ Day: according to the Bureau of Labor Services 485,000 American workers were involved in major labor stoppages in 2018 — more than any year since 1986. And those numbers only include what the BLS refers to as major stoppages — strikes or lockouts involving more than 1,000 workers.
What prompted this resurgence in labor actions? Inequality, for starters. The teacher strikes were the biggest, most high-profile, labor actions of the year. During the strikes, educators pointed their fingers at the inequality baked into public school funding. Why should teachers be more likely than other workers to hold second jobs, just because state legislatures don’t want to end corporate subsidies or close tax loopholes? Why should charter school administrators in Chicago make more than six figures while the paraprofessionals they employ make under $30,000?
The same questions could be asked of AT&T, where workers went on strike across the Midwest after the company stonewalled negotiations, even after receiving billions in tax breaks from the 2017 Republican tax legislation. Or of Marriott, where hotel workers rallied around the cry that “one job should be enough,” and demanded that reasonable wages should also come with reasonable workload expectations and workplace protections.
And there’s no sign that the trend is ready to die out. Earlier this year, Los Angeles teachers won a slew of demands — from smaller class sizes to more racial equity in the classroom — after they went on strike in January. Teachers in North and South Carolina shut down their school systems for a May Day march. And communities in the Northeast came out in support of Stop & Shop workers, who went on strike for 11 days just last month. There’s no reason for Stop & Shop owner Ahold Delhaize to reap in millions from tax cuts and redirect that money to stock buybacks to enrich shareholders.
Some onlookers were all too ready to sound the death knell for labor organizing last year, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of billionaire-backed organizations in their attempt to bleed public sector unions dry by depriving them of fair-share fees. Fortunately, at least 485,000 workers have already proven them wrong.