In a Summer of Strikes, It’s Time for Pro-Worker Legislation
By Xavier Aparicio
This summer, labor unions are demonstrating their collective power and asserting their rights. Evidence of this can be found in the months-long Hollywood writers’ (WGA) and actors’ (SAG-AFTRA) strikes; the high-profile UPS contract negotiations; and the one-day strike of more than 11,000 Los Angeles city workers.
What makes this summer of solidarity such a pivotal moment is the use of strikes, a tactic that has been on the decline for 40 years. In the 1980s and 1990s, organized labor was generally wary of strikes, as companies were able to use them to weaken unions and permanently replace union workers. Today, unions are building credible strike threats or striking outright to gain leverage at the bargaining table. A multitude of factors have led to this restrengthening of labor in the past few years.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated racial and economic inequalities. It also exposed many problems in the American labor market, especially for workers in the service and health care industries. Additionally, workers’ wages have not kept up with rising costs of living and inflation rates, putting many families in precarious financial situations. A tight job market with near record-low unemployment rates has strengthened unions’ position, as employers are not able to readily rely on contingent labor to break a strike as they once could.
A surge in organizing in 2022 has created momentum for the labor movement. Indeed, unions are expressing solidarity across sectors, as Teamsters have expressed their support of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, Starbucks Workers United members have picketed in support of striking Amazon drivers, and the success of the tentative agreement between the Teamsters and UPS has emboldened Amazon workers.
As workers fight back against the active role that companies have played in contributing to the deteriorating conditions for working people, companies are engaging in a myriad of union-busting tactics. Eighty-seven companies have hired anti-union consultants to undermine unionization efforts. In addition, companies increasingly rely on part-time workers who experience financial instability due to limited hours, to circumvent labor costs. Instead of paying their workers fairly, corporate lobbying groups are also pushing to remove key child labor protections.
Overall, unstable working conditions and corporate efforts to stifle unionization while boasting record profits have left workers feeling underpaid, mistreated, and discriminated against. Indeed, a CLASP analysis has shown that many companies have intentionally driven up prices to increase profits while using inflation as a cover, leading to workers’ inability to pay for basic needs.
As the summer of strikes continues, policymakers must recognize the need to support working families and pass legislation that bolsters workers’ rights. To ensure that striking workers are supported, Congress needs to pass the newly introduced Food Secure Strikers Act of 2023. This bill would remove provisions that prevent both striking workers and public sector workers who are fired for striking from receiving food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Congress should also update antiquated federal labor laws by passing the long-overdue Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to make it easier for workers to organize their workplace and prevent companies’ union-busting efforts. Finally, Congress must increase financial support for a understaffed and underfunded National Labor Relations Board so that it can properly facilitate workplace democracy and safeguard workers’ statutory rights. This summer’s wave of strike activity demonstrates that it is time for policy to meet the needs of American workers.