BLOOMBERG: Major U.S. Labor Strikes Second Lowest on Record in 2017

Originally published at Bloomberg on February 9, 2018, by Vincent Del Giudice.

Major U.S. Labor Strikes Second Lowest on Record in 2017

  • Last year’s largest work stoppage hit Charter Communications
  • American workers ‘have steadily lost power,’ economist says
Union members march in support of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in New York on Sept. 18, 2017. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
 

Where have all the strikers gone?

The number of major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more strikers dropped to seven last year from 15 in 2016 — the second lowest in Labor Department data going back to 1947. The total number of workers hitting the picket lines dropped to 25,000 last year, accounting for total of 440,000 idle days.

Last year’s biggest private sector strike, based on days idle, pitted the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers against Charter Communications, Inc., the government said. In the public sector, the largest strike was against the City of Oakland, California by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and the International Technical and Professional Engineers Local 21.

The lowest number of strikers was 13,000 in 2009; the highest 2.7 million in 1952, when unions wielded more bargaining power as the world rebuilt in the aftermath of World War Two. From 1963 to 1983, the total number of strikers topped 500,000 annually, peaking at about 2.5 million in 1970 and 1971, the data show.

“Workers have steadily lost power over the last two decades, which is why income inequality and stagnant wages have been issues in the last two presidential campaigns,” said Chris Rupkey, an economist at MUFG in New York. “Worker unions were a baby boom generation thing, bargaining for higher wages in the high inflation era back in the 70s and 80s that drove strike activity.”

Today “it’s a different era for labor unions, the baby boom generation is retiring, and millennials seem to be less confrontational for now,” Rupkey said. “If the inflation genie gets released from his bottle, it could put some life back in the union movement as worker wages tend to fall behind in high-inflation periods.