Workers projected to ride momentum of 2023’s labor strikes

Workers projected to ride momentum of 2023s labor strikes

(NewsNation) — Workers are expected to use the momentum from one of the busiest strike years in decades to argue for better pay and working conditions in 2024.

At least 172 contracts that cover more than 1,000 workers each will expire in 2024, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis and report. Industries including telecommunications, manufacturing, retail and education are set to negotiate conditions such as wages, benefits and time off, according to the Labor Relations Institute.

Strikes are banned or restricted in some industries, however. That leaves about 828,000 workers on large and soon-to-expire collective bargaining agreements, according to Bloomberg Law.

The United States Postal Service and National Carriers Conference Committee of the National Railway Labor Conference are among the largest labor contracts expiring in 2024.

Additionally, the threat of a United Parcel Service strike was called off when Teamsters voted in favor of a new agreement with historic wage raises and new safety and health protections.

High-profile strikes, including a massive effort from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), made headlines in 2023, which saw nearly 400 major strikes, according to data from Cornell University’s ILR Labor Action Tracker.

Roughly 492,000 workers went on strike in the first 11 months of 2023, according to a Wall Street Journal analysisabout four times more than the previous year.

Workers in education, training, library, and protective service occupations saw the highest unionization rates.

Despite 2023’s union gains, unionization rates remained relatively untouched from the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The union membership rate was 10% in 2023, little changed from 2022, the bureau reported Tuesday. About 14.4 million wage and salary workers belonged to unions last year, also representing little movement.

Looking ahead to 2024, workers may benefit from last year’s successful negotiations, said Lynne Vincent, an assistant professor of management at the M.J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.

“The total number of employees that are affected is not as high as 2023, but it’s still considerable,” Vincent said. “And they’re riding the momentum of 2023.”

A tight labor market and long-term concerns about wage inequality are likely to guide conversations, said Matthew Dimick, a law professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

“You see one union or one group of workers getting a victory (and) that emboldens other workers to ask for the same or better,” he said.

Some economists worried that the job market would soften as inflation slowed, but it remains tight. Issues like cost of living, AI and job security are all driving workers to advocate for themselves, Vincent said, noting that workers are both frustrated and optimistic heading into 2024.

If the job market remains strong, it could bolster their wage demands.

“We’ve seen rising inequality over the last two or three decades that I think is sort of the long-term underlying motivation for all of these strikes,” he said. “We’ve only rarely had a labor market that has allowed workers to get what they feel is their fair share of growing productivity and economic growth, so I think a lot of people feel like they have a lot to make up there.”

From 1978 to 2022, top CEO compensation rose 1,209.2% compared to a 15.3% increase in a typical worker’s pay, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 2022, CEOs were paid 344 times as much as a typical worker, compared with the 21:1 CEO-to-worker pay ratio that existed in 1965.

New approaches born from 2023’s labor fights could help workers rally against the traditions that don’t benefit them, Vincent said.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union, for example, launched a strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis when their contracts expired in September. The union reached deals with all three manufacturers by late October.

“It sends the message: We have to do something different,” Vincent said. “So you can be bold, you can try new things, and we need to be aggressive if we’re going to buck the trends and outcomes that we’ve previously seen.”

Vincent also expects employees to fight for better work-life balance, benefits and health safety in 2024.

As for union membership, she says it’s unclear if the continued momentum from last year’s strikes will result in increased participation, but she expects to see more unionization.

“It’s still difficult,” Vincent said. “And even if you get that unionization certification, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to get an agreement or a contract. There are so many question marks here.”

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