Tens of thousands of workers are already on strike or poised to do so, in what is shaping up to be the biggest summer of industrial action in the US in decades and a sharp turnaround for flagging unions.
A collective strike by actors and writers in Hollywood is entering its second week. It has already seen Tina Fey, Kevin Bacon, David Duchovny and other stars join the cast and producers on the picket line.
The United Parcel Service union (UPS) and Detroit’s so-called ‘Big Three’ automakers are poised to join them next week if contract talks fall through — and neither scenario is a long shot.
Bank of America auto analyst John Murphy put the odds of an autoworker strike at ‘better than 90 percent.’ UPS has just 10 days left to cut a deal with the Teamsters union before the July 31 deadline for downing tools.
The seven-season hit Netflix TV show Grace and Frankie regularly shows their support for striking actors and screenwriters on picket lines in Hollywood, California.
2023 is going to be a bumper year for industrial action
For many analysts, the United States and other Western countries are witnessing a resurgence of long-dormant industrial action, as unionists seize opportunities in tight labor markets to pressure bosses for better pay and benefits.
University of California labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein told Bloomberg it was the ‘biggest strike moment since the 1970s’ as union chiefs found their nerve and went ‘on offense’.
For Americans who aren’t hurting themselves, industrial action could cause parcel deliveries, car supply chains, and new show and movie releases to become a trickle later this year.
About 65,000 actors and 11,500 screenwriters are on strike for pay, health care benefits and protection from artificial intelligence, shutting down TV and movie sets in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago and beyond.
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It’s unclear when talks will begin between their union, SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild, and the studios and streaming companies, which are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
The group said it already offered writers and actors better pay and benefits.
A temporary strike affecting Broadway shows looks likely to be averted this week, thanks to a tentative deal
UPS bosses said this week they would return to bargaining with a better offer for roughly 340,000 Teamster-represented U.S. workers.
According to one estimate, they are eager to avoid a strike that could cost the company $7 billion in just 10 days.
It could also increase parcel delivery to millions of Americans.
Negotiations broke down on July 5 over a dispute over wages for experienced part-time workers, some of whom make less than new hires as starting wages have risen due to labor shortages over the past few years.
Joe Hohenstein, a Pennsylvania Democratic state representative, rallied UPS workers in a ‘practice picket’ this week.
He said they have the ‘power’ to decide whether to show up to work and win bigger paychecks by ‘sticking together’.
In a statement, UPS bosses said they are ready to raise their ‘industry-leading pay and benefits’ and are ready to continue negotiations next week.
President Joe Biden met this week with Sean Fein, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which represents 150,000 US hourly workers at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-parent Stellar, to discuss an escalating strike.
Does 2023 mark a reversal in fortunes for America’s flag-carrying unions?
United Auto Workers President Sean Fein plans industrial action while huddling with General Motors workers at a factory in Detroit, Michigan.
A giant inflatable ‘fat cat’ is set up at a UPS Teamsters rally in Los Angeles, California
The contract between the union and the Big Three carmakers is set to expire in September.
Fein has criticized their record profits and attempts to shift production overseas.
Still, action against all three manufacturers at the same time is unlikely, analysts say.
‘We’ll just have to see where things go,’ Fein said.
For their part, the automakers say they already offer good wages and benefits and need to stay competitive against lower-paying rivals like Elon Musk’s Tesla, as they pump money into next-generation electric vehicles.
In Hollywood, studio bosses have their own cashflow problems to switch to streaming, which is less profitable.
Similarly, UPS has struggled with demand as the U.S. emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.
How the negotiations play out could set a precedent for workers, unions and bosses for years to come.
If the unions win, it will send a message to workers at companies like Amazon and Starbucks, who have resisted unionization, that they can band together and put pressure on executives.
It would also mark a shift for organized labor, which has seen membership decline in recent decades.
It seemed as if Mega Strike was in America’s rearview mirror
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the early 1980s, fully one-fifth of America’s private sector was unionized. Which has come down to just 6 percent these days.
The biggest actions in US history – the steel strike of half a million workers in 1959 and the 400,000 railroad shop workers who destroyed equipment in 1922 – were present in the rearview mirror.
In their recent book Union Booms and Busts, Judith Stepan-Norris and Jasmine Kerrissey, cite 1974 as the peak year for labor action, with 6,074 separate strikes in the United States.
Union leaders were reined in as the courts became more hostile to them in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan.
The strike ended with fewer gains for workers and decreased union membership.
That’s why many analysts see 2023 as a turning point for workers, who continue to flex their muscles even as global supply chains and automation should put more power in the hands of employers.
‘Never forget this: working people vastly outnumber billionaires and CEOs,’ says Robert Rich, a University of California, Berkeley professor and Carter-era labor secretary.
‘If we stand in solidarity, we will win.’
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