Enraged by Trump and energized by the Janus ruling, unions turn to an old familiar tactic.
President Trump has been mostly quiet about the standoff between General Motors and the United Auto Workers. Since he’s known for building hotels and not consensus, that’s probably a good thing. But these labor disputes aren’t going away. Work stoppages have risen sharply in recent years and the number of workers who have been idled is approaching levels not seen since the 1980s.
The U.S. Labor Department reports that there were 20 major strikes in 2018, the most since 2007, and they are growing in size as well as frequency. Some 485,000 people were involved in labor strikes last year, the highest number in 32 years. The walkouts haven’t been limited to a certain industry or region. They’ve involved hospital workers, educators and hotel staff and have taken place in states as diverse as California, Oklahoma and Vermont. While public-sector unions have led the way, their private-sector counterparts have been agitating, too, as GM can attest.
On one level, this isn’t surprising. We’re in the 10th year of an economic expansion and unemployment is at a 50-year low. When labor markets are this tight, employees gain more leverage. Labor unions gamble that management will have a tougher time finding replacement workers in such an environment if their demands aren’t met. But something else may be going on here. In all of 2017 there were just seven major work stoppages in the U.S., the second-lowest number since 1947. Through September of this year, there had already been 20.
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