‘It feels prefer it’s strike summer time’: US unions flex muscle tissue throughout industries

‘It feels prefer it’s strike summer time’: US unions flex muscle tissue throughout industries

It’s been a quick and livid few weeks for labor. First, 3,000 employees went on strike at 150 Starbucks, then 6,000 Los Angeles resort employees walked out, and now 11,500 Hollywood writers and 160,000 tv and film actors have gone on strike. Not solely that, 340,000 UPS employees appeared able to stroll out on 1 August, and the United Auto Employees (UAW) union is threatening to strike a number of Detroit automakers later this summer time.

“It feels prefer it’s strike summer time,” mentioned Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Middle. “There’s large vitality inside the labor motion, and there’s large vitality on the strike strains.”

“Tik tock #HotLaborSummer,” the Teamsters tweeted final week as they counted right down to a strike at UPS that might have value the corporate greater than $800m and the nation over $7bn, in accordance to 1 estimate.

However on Tuesday a UPS strike was averted as the corporate elevated its supply and the union declared victory in what may very well be a major win for the labor motion. In saying the settlement, Sean O’Brien, the Teamsters’ normal president, mentioned: “This contract units a brand new normal within the labor motion,” including that UPS “has put $30bn in new cash on the desk as a direct results of these negotiations”.


At the moment, the #Teamsters reached essentially the most historic tentative settlement for employees within the historical past of @UPS, defending and rewarding greater than 340,000 UPS Teamsters nationwide. #1u pic.twitter.com/4Ap3j4XUTD

— Teamsters (@Teamsters) July 25, 2023

Maite Tapia, a professor of labor relations at Michigan State, mentioned: “It’s not only a scorching, labor summer time – we’re in a protest and strike wave. It’s fascinating and galvanizing to see how these employees are leveraging their energy towards huge firms.”

Worker frustration and anger have fueled the work stoppages. Many frontline employees are nonetheless fuming about how poorly they had been handled in the course of the pandemic, and plenty of are upset that their pay will increase have lagged far behind inflation.

“We’re popping out of greater than three years of pandemic the place folks felt that financial inequality has grown,” Wong mentioned. “Many employees had been referred to as important employees, however they typically felt they weren’t revered or appreciated, but on the identical time they’ve seen all this outrageous company greed.”

However the firms hit by strikes or threatened with them say they’ve made beneficiant contract affords, though administration and labor typically appear to be speaking previous one another. Many unions argue that it’s solely honest that employees obtain larger-than-usual raises to offset the 9% inflation that coursed by means of the US financial system, however many firms resist giving raises of greater than 3% a yr.

Diana Rios-Sanchez, a housekeeping supervisor on the InterContinental Resort in Los Angeles, mentioned hundreds of resort employees walked out for 3 days at greater than 30 lodges as a result of they really feel underappreciated and underpaid. “My co-workers don’t really feel they’re handled with respect,” she mentioned. “They’re handled like they’re only a piece of trash.”

Rios-Sanchez mentioned that due to Los Angeles’ hovering rents, resort employees are determined for sizable raises. She makes $26 an hour, however she and her husband can solely afford a one-bedroom condominium for themselves and their three youngsters. “I’d take house $3,500 a month with time beyond regulation, however a two-bedroom condominium prices $2,000 to $2,500 a month, after which there’s childcare and meals payments,” she mentioned.

The tight labor market helps make it a superb time for employees to strike. Unions usually tend to strike when the jobless charge is low; that hampers firms’ means to search out substitute employees throughout a walkout. Additionally, strikes are contagious, emboldening different employees to stroll out.

UPS employees ready for a strike by holding picket line practices earlier than an settlement was reached on 25 July. {Photograph}: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Photographs

In California, the epicenter of at the moment’s labor strife, 48,000 College of California graduate educating assistants, researchers and different tutorial employees walked out final November and gained a settlement that included raises of greater than 55% for the lowest-paid employees. In April, 30,000 Los Angeles college district custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria employees and instructor’s aides struck for 3 days. They gained a 30% elevate. These victories helped embolden LA’s resort employees to demand a 40% elevate.

Employees’ attitudes about happening strike have additionally modified considerably. “For a lot of many years, unions wished to keep away from a strike as a result of strikes might imply catastrophe,” mentioned Nelson Lichtenstein, a longtime labor historian on the College of California, Santa Barbara. “That was actually true within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties.”

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired greater than 11,000 placing members of the Skilled Air Site visitors Controllers Group (Patco) union in a transfer that was seen as a devastating blow to organized labor – it led to that union’s collapse and discouraged different unions from placing.

“Within the wake of the Patco strike, firms noticed strikes as alternatives to weaken unions and even break them. That’s not the case at the moment. At the moment there’s no concern that calling a strike will end in catastrophe,” mentioned Lichtenstein.

“At the moment there’s a way that unions are on the offensive,” Lichtenstein continued. “Take the actors. They are saying they don’t need only a good contract. They need a transformative contract.”

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He said today’s younger generation of workers – often inspired by Bernie Sanders, often irked about high rents and student debt, often unfamiliar with labor’s setbacks in decades past – is more inclined to strike than older workers.

Several business trends have spurred the strike wave and increased worker anger. Like many companies, UPS has relied heavily on part-time workers to hold down costs, and many of those workers complain that their limited hours mean they earn far too little. Similarly, television writers increasingly say they’re not being given enough work to live on – they often used to work on series that had more than 20 episodes a season, but now they often work on series with just six or eight episodes a season. With the explosion of streaming, TV actors are upset that they’re earning far less from residuals than they did in the era before streaming.

Corporations are not happy about the increased labor militancy. The Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers said it “offered historic pay and residual increases”, adding that the actors’ union, by striking, “has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry”.

Eager to avert a Teamsters strike, UPS agreed to significantly increase wages for full- and part-time workers. The wage gains are double the increases from the union’s previous five-year contract and include a 48% pay raise for part-timers over the life of the contract.

“We’ve changed the game, battling it out day and night to make sure our members won an agreement that pays strong wages, rewards their labor and doesn’t require a single concession,” O’Brien said. He added that “this contract … raises the bar for all workers”.

The Teamsters win is likely to embolden the UAW as that union considers a strike, too. “Without a credible strike threat, the Teamsters could not have gotten this much, said Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University, “In recent memory, we haven’t had three such large labor situations, one following the other, each of which has national implications and each of which could provide momentum for the other. A big strike that moves the needle for workers – we haven’t seen that in a long while at the national level.”

This summer’s strikes come as public approval of unions is at its highest since 1965, and some labor experts say the strike wave could increase support for labor organizing, even though strikes often inconvenience the public.

When these actors go on strike, it has a huge impact way beyond their numbers; everyone knows who these people are,” said Lichtenstein. “It’s extraordinarily important when a star like Harrison Ford – 3 or 4 billion people know who he is – says I’m for unions. I back the strike.”

He noted that when 185,000 Teamsters walked out at UPS for 15 days in 1997, “that was a very popular strike. Everyone knows their UPS driver.” He argued that strikes by well-liked UPS drivers and Hollywood celebrities could boost support for labor. Indeed, Lichtenstein said that if the Teamsters and UAW are very successful in their contract negotiations, whether with or without a strike, that could help President Biden and other Democrats in 2024, especially in midwest states, where the UAW is strongest.

More militant union leadership is another catalyst for strikes. Over the past two years, insurgent candidates won the presidency of the UAW and Teamsters, having promised a more confrontational approach in bargaining and a greater willingness to strike.

Speaking about UAW president Shawn Fain, Michigan State’s Tapia said: “He seems to be gearing up the workers to strike. He has said the workers’ true enemy is multibillion-dollar corporations that refuse to give union members their fair share. The Teamsters and UAW leaders have talked about the significance of strikes not just for their members, but for workers across the whole country.”

In recent months, unions have shown significantly increased energy both in striking and in organizing, for instance at Starbucks. “What these two phenomena make clear is the importance of collective action,” McCartin said. “Historically, to move the needle for workers, they need to engage in collective action.”

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