The 16 biggest strikes of 2021

United Mine Workers strikers from Warrior Met Coal in Alabama took their picket line to Wall Street in 2021. Their strike is now in its 12th month. | PHOTO VIA UMWA


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes annual data on work stoppages that involve more than 1,000 employees. Here are the 16 major actions happened in 2021, and how they turned out.

1) Kaiser Permanente

  • WHERE: California
  • WHO: 40,000 members of Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) the California Nurses Association and National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW)
  • HOW LONG: Nov. 18 – Nov. 19
  • WHY: Health care workers held a sympathy strike to support a smaller group of Kaiser workers represented by Operating Engineers Local 39 (whose numbers did not reach the Bureau of Labor Statistics threshold for a major work stoppage), that had been on strike for more than two months. The Local 39 strike ended after 91 days on Dec. 17 without a new contract, and the two sides planned to continue negotiations.

2) John Deere 

  • WHERE: 14 facilities across Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas
  • WHO: 10,000 members of United Auto Workers
  • HOW LONG: Oct. 14 – Nov. 17
  • WHY: Union members rejected a tentative agreement that would have eliminated the pension for new hires and raised pay just 11% over six years, and 10,000 employees stopped work for over a month. It ended with a six-year contract that provided 20% raises – including 10% in year one – a $8,500 ratification bonus, retained retirement for current and future employees, and maintained no-cost health care.

3) Fred Meyer/QFC (Kroger) 

  • WHERE: Oregon, Southwest Washington
  • WHO: 7,000 members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555
  • HOW LONG: Dec. 17
  • WHY: One day of work stoppage was what it took to bring Kroger management closer to the union’s contract proposal, although workers had been prepared for a five-day strike during retail’s busiest time of the year. The final three-year contract includes a $15 minimum wage, wage increases of $3 an hour for all journey-level employees and $5.05 an hour for central checkout employees.

4) Columbia University 

  • WHERE: New York, NY
  • WHO: 3,000 members of Graduate Workers of Columbia University, United Auto Workers Local 2110
  • HOW LONG: March 15 – May 13, Nov. 3 – Jan. 7, 2022
  • WHY: Workers at the Ivy League university went on strike over pay increases and union recognition, narrowly rejected a later tentative agreement, and ended the strike without a contract. Bargaining restarted in the fall and workers struck again in November. The strike ended with another tentative four-year agreement, this time approved by 97%, bringing wage increases and more.

5) Volvo Trucks North America 

  • WHERE: Dublin, Va.
  • WHO: 2,900 members of United Auto Workers Local 2069
  • HOW LONG: April 17-30, June 7 – July 14
  • WHY: Lack of progress in negotiating pay increases, job security and wage progression led 2,900 workers to walk off the job. The strike paused when a tentative agreement was reached, but workers strongly rejected that and a subsequent agreement and returned to the strike line in June. After a month on strike, they rejected one more tentative agreement before approving a final contract by just 50.4%. UAW says the agreement brought wage increases for each year of the six-year contract, and a sign-on bonus.

6) New York University 

  • WHERE: New York, NY
  • WHO: 2,200 members of Graduate Student Organizing Committee, United Auto Workers Local 2110
  • HOW LONG: April 26 – May 15
  • WHY: After months of bargaining, graduate workers voted by 96.4% to strike, rejecting a proposed $1 an hour wage increase. After three weeks on strike, they won increased health coverage and a 30% increase in minimum hourly wage (to $26, which will reach $30 by the end of the six-year contract).

7) Mercy Hospital 

  • WHERE: Buffalo, NY
  • WHO: 2,000 members of Communications Workers of America Local 1133
  • HOW LONG: Oct. 1 – Nov. 9
  • WHY: Nurses, technical, service and clerical staff went on strike, citing a staffing crisis that management wouldn’t adequately address in contract negotiations. At the end of the more than month-long strike, the union secured staffing ratios and across-the-board wage increases, as well as a $15 minimum wage for workers.

8) Associated General Contractors of Washington 

  • WHERE: Washington state
  • WHO: 2,000 members of Northwest Carpenters Union Locals 30, 41, 59, 70, 96, 129, 196, 816
  • HOW LONG: Sept. 16 – Oct. 11
  • WHY: After four tentative agreements were rejected by members, workers went on strike in September and stayed off the job for more than three weeks. The bargaining team came to a fifth tentative agreement, which narrowly passed with 53.6% of votes in favor. Some of the wins included a 15% raise over the life of the contract, moving from a four- to a three-year contract, and modest increases in health insurance allocation and pension contributions.

9) Cook County, Illinois 

  • WHERE: Chicago, Ill.
  • WHO: 2,000 members of SEIU Local 73
  • HOW LONG: June 25 – July 12
  • WHY: County workers were offered no pay increase for 2021 and a 2% increase each year between 2022 and 2024, and up to an 80% increase in health insurance costs. After an 18-day strike, union and management reached a tentative agreement bringing raises and bonuses, hazard pay for work during COVID, health care improvements and a hiring process that prioritizes seniority. The union headed into further arbitration to increase minimum wages and secure longevity pay.

10) Harvard University 

  • WHERE: Cambridge, Mass.
  • WHO: 2,000 members of Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers Local 5118
  • HOW LONG: Oct. 27 – Oct. 29
  • WHY: University management offered graduate student workers a 0% raise and sought to exclude some members from receiving benefits at the beginning of contract negotiations in March. Seven months later, workers held a three-day strike, and reached agreement the night before another strike was set to begin. Salaried workers saw 5% raises retroactive to July, 4% raises in 2022, 3% in 2023 and 3% in 2024. Hourly workers won a $20 per hour minimum, increasing to $20.50 in 2022 and $21 in 2023.

11) Kellogg’s 

  • WHERE: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Nebraska
  • WHO: 1,400 members of BCTGM
  • HOW LONG: Oct. 5 – Dec. 21
  • WHY: Workers at all Kellogg’s cereal-producing plants weren’t eager to meet management’s demands, including giving up their current health care, retirement benefits, and holiday and vacation pay – and they weren’t thrilled with a company threat to move jobs to Mexico if the demands weren’t met. They struck for 11 weeks and won a five-year contract that included no concessions of current benefits, preserved cost-of-living increases, and more.

12) Hunts Point Produce Market 

  • WHERE: New York, NY
  • WHO: 1,400 members of Teamsters Local 202
  • HOW LONG: Jan. 17-23
  • WHY: Produce workers asked for a $1 per hour raise. Management offered 32 cents. After striking nearly a week, workers won wage increases of $1.85 over a three-year contract, including a 70-cent raise in the first year. The strike drew widespread attention and visits by politicians.

13) University of Southern California 

  • WHERE: Los Angeles
  • WHO: 1,400 members of California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
  • HOW LONG: July 13-14
  • WHY: Registered nurses at Keck Medicine of USC were in contract negotiations since late 2020. By the summer key issues were unresolved, including adequate rest between shifts to prevent sleep deprivation, and prioritized staffing for in-house nurses with appropriate skills over outside contractors. After a two-day strike in July, they ratified a new contract in September. It provides for hiring 70 new nurses and reducing the hospital’s use of contract nurses by 40%. It also brings 27.7% pay increases over the four-year contract.

14) Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) 

  • WHERE: Nine locations in multiple states
  • WHO: 1,300 members of United Steelworkers Locals 1196 and 1138
  • HOW LONG: March 30 – July 13
  • WHY: After bargaining paused for a year due to COVID, management demanded sweeping concessions and began using shady tactics, including denying benefits to laid-off workers until the contract was ratified. USW-represented employees stopped work for more than three months. In the end, the two sides agreed on a contract that provided wage increases and maintained premium-free health coverage.

15) Warrior Met Coal 

  • WHERE: Brookwood, Ala.
  • WHO: 1,100 members of United Mine Workers
  • HOW LONG: April 1 – present
  • WHY: In 2016, workers at what is now Warrior Met Coal accepted pay cuts to help the mining operation come out of bankruptcy. So when upper-level management paid itself bonuses and then refused to increase wages or benefits in early 2021 contract negotiations, workers weren’t having it. They went on strike April 1, and have been striking ever since, facing down attacks and arrests for the last 11 months. Striking workers traveled to New York City to picket outside the offices of BlackRock, the investment management firm that’s a major shareholder of Warrior Met Coal. The miners set up a strike fund at

16) Nabisco 

  • WHERE: Oregon, Illinois, Colorado, Georgia, Virginia
  • WHO: 1,000 members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Locals 364, 1, 42, 26, 358
  • HOW LONG: Aug. 19 – Sept. 18
  • WHY: It started in Portland: BCTGM 364 workers stopped work on Aug. 10, after Nabisco demanded major economic concessions from workers including higher health insurance costs for future hires and lower overtime premiums. Scabs were bussed in, the word spread, and by the end of August Nabisco workers around the country had joined the strike. The strike ended Sept. 19 when negotiators came to a compromise that preserved overtime and weekend premiums for many workers, and did not create the tiered insurance system.
SEIU members on strike at Cook County, Illinois

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