By DON McINTOSH
Here are some of last year’s most important developments for organized labor and working people in Oregon, Washington and nationwide.
Strikes are coming back, big time
Official government statistics on strike activity are pretty incomplete: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only tracks work stoppages that involve more than 1,000 workers and last at least one weekday. But its monthly and yearly strike reports do show which way the wind is blowing. Last year saw more large strikes (32) than any year since 2000, and more striking workers (467,210) than any year since 1986 — except for 2018, the year of the red state teacher strike wave. The year’s strike activity was still far below the labor movement’s peak in the 1950s to 1970s, when over 300 large strikes a year were the norm. Instead it was a return to the levels of the 1990s — but with a noticeably different mood and results. Strikers are winning, and often, they’re winning big. Here are some of the biggest strikes that involved workers in Oregon and Washington.
- UAW The most consequential strike of the year is likely the 46-day strike that began Sept. 15 with 12,700 auto workers and grew to 53,700 workers. It was the first time in history that United Auto Workers struck all three big U.S. automakers, and the wins were stunning: an almost complete rollback of decades of union concessions, including an end to the unfair two-tier wage scale, a general wage increase of $10 an hour, a $12 an hour increase in the starting wage, true cost-of-living raises based on inflation.
- SAG-AFTRA From July 14 to Nov. 9, the 160,000 members of the actors union held a 118-day strike that halted most TV and movie production. They won over $1 billion in new wages and benefit plan funding, limited the use of their likeness by AI without consent and payment, and for the first time provides residual compensation to actors when works are streamed.
- Writers Guild 11,500 members struck from May 2 to Sept. 27 —148 days — shutting down film and TV production. In the end they won triple the compensation the studios had been offering, including streaming bonuses based on viewership, plus rules on the use of AI.
- Kaiser Permanente It was the biggest health care strike in U.S. history — so far: 75,600 workers struck Kaiser Permanente in eight states for three days, and returned to work with a four-year agreement brokered by the U.S. Secretary of Labor that provides 21% raises, a $23 wage floor, increased investment in job training, and protections against outsourcing.
- Kaiser Permanente II After UFCW 555 withdrew from the union coalition that led the other strike, 370 pharmacy technicians and clerks went on strike Oct. 1, and were joined by about 500 imaging technologists Nov. 1. They ended their strike Nov. 1 and are still without a new contract.
- Portland Public Schools About 3,700 teachers, counselors, and librarians struck for 26 days. It was the first-ever strike by the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), and the longest-ever teacher strike in Oregon. Teachers won increased planning time and 14.6% raises over three years, 4% more than the district had been offering.
- PeaceHealth More than 1,300 health care workers struck Oct. 23-27 at PeaceHealth Southwest in Vancouver and St. John Medical Center in Longview and won raises averaging 28% over four years.
- City of Portland 600 laborers in parks, transportation, and sewer struck for three days and won an immediate 8% raise, 2% more than the City said it could give before they struck.
- Yamhill County About 400 members of Yamhill County Employees Association struck for five days and returned to work with a deal for 13% raises over three years, 2% more than management’s pre-strike offer.
Workers are joining unions
Over the course of 2023, 78 workplaces unionized in Oregon and Southwest Washington, bringing close to 7,800 workers into local unions. In another 13 union elections, unions failed to win majorities. And in three union workplaces, workers voted to “decertify” and go non-union, for a loss of 99 union workers. Subtracting those, Oregon and Southwest Washington still saw a net gain through union campaigns of about 7,700 workers. Though it’s harder to produce an immediate tally, union membership also grew in the construction sector, where unions are adding apprentice and journeyman workers amid an ongoing construction boom.
- Biggest win a unit of 3,922 student workers at University of Oregon.
- Biggest defeat at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, where a campaign among 1,113 hospital support workers failed by just four votes.
Also notable was a union win among the last big group of non-union employees at the City of Portland — 712 coordinators, analysts, and other administrative workers are now members of the City of Portland Professional Workers.
Celebrity scabs are getting spanked
Never cross a strike picket line. That’s a good rule to follow no matter the season, but especially if you’re a celebrity at a time when polls are showing public approval of unions at a 57-year high. This year two TV show hosts — Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher — announced plans to scab on their own writers by restarting show production during the Writers Guild strike. But the backlash from fans and the public was so ferocious that they quickly changed their minds.
Unions are winning big raises
Local unions also won sizable raises through collective bargaining — often after making it clear they were prepared to strike. Leading the way locally was Sheet Metal Local 16, where members authorized a strike and then won a record-busting $23.25 an hour increase in compensation in their new four-year agreement. But Painters Local 10 also won serious coin in the final hours before a planned May Day strike — $9.66 in increased compensation over three years, the largest pay bump the local has ever seen.
By far the biggest strike-ready contract breakthrough was among the 340,000 Teamsters at UPS. Aug. 1 was the date set for what would have been the biggest single-employer strike in U.S. history. Instead, UPS decided to play fair. It eliminated a two-tier wage system, gave an immediate raise of $4.35 an hour to part-timers, and raised drivers’ wages to $49.00 (up from $41.50) by 2027.