Employers, especially manufacturers, are facing a new (old) challenge in unionized work forces: strikes. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows U.S. workers are more likely to strike today than at any other time in the last 30 years. This should prompt employers with unionized workforces to review their strike preparedness plans.
Over the last three decades, strikes in the U.S. have decreased, particularly following the 2008 financial crash. In 2017, approximately 25,000 workers participated in a strike. This changed dramatically in 2018 and 2019, when more than 450,000 workers and more than 425,000 workers, respectively, participated in a strike. According to BLS, strike actions in 2019 caused more than 3,200 days’ worth of lost work. The number of strikers and the number of days lost to strikes have hit 30-year highs.
The strong domestic economy and continued global competition, among other factors, have created a labor shortage of qualified workers. Unions may see this as the right time to demand higher wage increases and benefits, especially where it was not possible to make such demands during the Great Recession. Workers also may be more aggressive, seeing the relative ease of finding new employment in many areas. At the same time, manufacturers are pressured by tariffs cutting into their supply chains and profits.
The significant increase in possible strike activity suggests that employers should take any threat of a strike seriously. Labor negotiations frequently can become contentious and the threat of a strike is always present. Employers should be ready with a strike preparedness plan that includes a plan of action and a list of possible solutions. Further, any new round of collective bargaining may mean reassessing the plan. Bottom line: proactive labor relations strategies and diligent preparation are critical to protecting employers’ operations in the event of a strike.