THE DISAPPEARING STRIKE

Nine. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW] Eleven. That’s the total number of work stoppages last year that involved over 1,000 U.S. workers. It’s tied for the second-lowest level ever recorded since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began keeping track in 1947. The record – thus far – was set in 2009, when just five work stoppages of over 1,000 workers took place.

Strikes 2014Looking back over the last 67 years, this data set tells a story – of the near total disappearance of the strike. In the 1950s, there were an average of 352 large-scale work stoppages a year. In the 1960s and 1970s, the rate slowed only slightly – to an average of 286 a year. The peak was 1952, when 2.7 million workers took part in 470 large-scale work stoppages. But the last truly big strike year was 1974, and you can see the numbers  plummet after 1981. That’s the year President Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 air traffic controllers for violating a prohibition on strikes by federal employees. Since 1981, there have never been more than 100 large work stoppages a year, and the number continues to ratchet down. Since 1989, there have been fewer than 50 work stoppages a year; since 2000, fewer than 30; and since 2007, fewer than 20. BLS uses the term “work stoppages” to include both strikes by workers and lock-outs by employers.

Today’s strikes aren’t just fewer in number than the strikes of old; they also tend to be shorter. Strikes in the ‘50s and ‘60s lasted two to three weeks on average. Today’s strikes seem to come in two varieties: Short symbolic strikes of a day or two called by unions to protest employer lawbreaking, and drawn-out strikes or lockouts caused by employers seeking dramatic concessions.

CORRECTION: Strike that. There were 11 major strikes last year, not nine. We initially reported that there were nine major work stoppages in the United States involving more than 1,000 workers in 2014. That figure was generated by totaling monthly reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the reports missed two work stoppages. BLS later revised two of the monthly reports, and cited 11 major stoppages in its annual report on work stoppages (a term that includes strikes by workers AND employer lockouts). The two work stoppages we missed in our tally were one-day hospital strikes, Aug. 14 and Nov. that have been added to the list below. The corrected data doesn’t fundamentally change the story – which is about the near total disappearance of the strike. It means that instead of 2014 being the second-lowest strike year since 1947, as we first reported, it’s tied for second-lowest with 2010.


The nine eleven major work stoppages of 2014

These strikes weren’t the only ones last year, just the only strikes involving over 1,000 workers.

  • University of Illinois (Chicago) 1,100 members of UIC United Faculty Local 6456 struck for two days Feb. 18-19.
  • Johns Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore) 2,000 members of Service Employees International Union Local 1099 struck for three days April 9-11.
  • L-3 Communications Army Fleet Support (Fort Rucker, Alabama) 3,000 members of Machinists Lodge 2003 struck for five days April 28- May 4
  • Queen of the Valley Medical Center, Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, and Watsonville Community Hospital (Central California) 1,000 members of California Nurses Association held a one-day strike Aug. 14
  • Waukegan School District 60 (Waukegan, Illinois) 1,200 members of Lake County Federation of Teachers, Local 504 struck for 20 days Oct. 2-30.
  • Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Tracy, Community Health, and Ascencion Health hospitals (Northern and Central California) 20,000 members of California Nurses Association/ National Nurses United held a one-day strike Nov. 11.
  • St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Clare Hospital in Tacoma and Lakewood, Washington,  1,100 members of SEIU Local 1199NW held a one-day strike Nov. 18.
  • SFO Airport Restaurant Employer Council (San Francisco International Airport) 1,000 members of UNITE HERE Local 2 struck for two days Dec. 11-12.
  • MedStar Washington Hospital Center (Washington, D.C.) 1,900 members of National Nurses United struck seven days Dec. 22-31.
  • Zodiac Zodiac Seats US (Gainesville, Texas) 1,300 members of Teamsters Local 767 struck for 29 days Sept. 23 to Oct. 25.
  • FairPoint Communications (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) 1,700 members of Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers went on strike Oct. 17 and have remained on strike since then.

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