2023 Will Go Down As 'The Year Of The Strike'

Yet another labor dispute is making the headlines this week. 

Ninety-nine percent of the roughly 5,000 Teamsters working across Anheuser-Busch’s 12 U.S. breweries have voted to authorize a strike.

“The breweries produce some of the most popular beer brands in the country, including Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Busch,” reports USA Today. “The union said it wants an agreement that improves wages, protects jobs and secures health care and retirement benefits for its members. The current agreement expires on Feb. 29.”

It’s the latest of many worker uprisings in 2023. 



Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, there were 393 strikes in the U.S. involving more than 500,000 workers, according to Johnnie Kallas, a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations and director of the university's Labor Action Tracker.

This year saw more work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers than any year since 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These workers "made significant gains,” reports CNBC. “In the first quarter of 2023 alone, union-represented workers saw an average 7% wage hike in the first year of their contracts, according to Bloomberg Law. That's the biggest wage hike in a single quarter since 2007.”

"In addition to traditional demands for better wages and working conditions, unions demands this year aim to address technological advancement, economic realities and broader social issues,” according to OnLabor.

Several of the biggest groups to strike were the United Auto Workers, Kaiser Permanente, the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

Striking can often be contagious, and no wonder after seeing the results. For example, the UAW got a minimum 33% wage increase over the course of the agreement, faster progression to top-paying gigs, and the inclusion of electric vehicle and battery jobs under the union's jurisdiction.

"Nothing is more motivating than success," Erica Smiley, executive director of worker advocate nonprofit Jobs With Justice, tells CNBC. "It's created a lot of momentum in our movement.”

Another motivator to strike is the state of the labor market.

The unemployment rate remains low. When that happens there are fewer workers vying for the same jobs, giving them the power to seek better offers. 

Timing can also play a huge factor in settlements. It’s no coincidence that negotiators for pilots at Southwest Airlines were able to reach an agreement in principle with the company for a new five-year contract worth $12 billion just before the critical holiday period, according to Reuters. 

Southwest and its pilots have been in negotiations for a new contract for more than three years and in federal mediation since September 2022. The last contract ended in 2020. The pilots have been demanding higher pay and better work rules.

“An industry-wide shortage of pilots has left U.S. airlines scrambling to hire and retain talent, bolstering pilots' bargaining power,” per Reuters. 

Companies should note that consumers are watching and are rooting for workers to succeed. 

More than two-thirds of Americans support unions, according to a recent poll from The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO). That number is even higher for people younger than 30, 88% percent saying they support labor unions, reportsUSA Today

Interestingly, labor union support transcends party lines: About 91% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 52% of Republicans approve of unions. Voters under 30 show wide support for labor unions. 88% percent approve of unions and 90% say they support strikes.

One benefit the UAW didn’t get this time around was a four-day, 32-hour work week without a cut in pay. It could come up again when the current contract expires in 2028. 

UAW President Shawn Fain says that it's not just achievable, but a dream that his union forefathers believed in, according to ABC.

"I think it's a very realistic goal," he said.

Fain says it was a negotiating goal of the union back in the middle of the last century, soon after it won the right to represent workers at the nation's automakers. 

"I don't know what happened over the next 60 or 70 years, but that conversation fell by the wayside," he said. "So I felt it was imperative that we get the dialogue going back to, you know, workers reclaiming their lives." 

Even without that concession, the UAW emerged from the strike with very lucrative deals. The union's wage gains will indirectly affect non-unionized companies, too, by pressuring them to raise their pay, according to NPR.

It very easily could result in 2024 becoming "The Year of The Strike, Part 2.”

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