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ANALYSIS: Back on the Job, Unions Are Again Walking the Lines

May 21, 2021, 5:56 PM

Union workers are returning to the picket lines as Covid-related workplace restrictions ease. Data from Bloomberg Law’s database of work stoppages point to a reset of pre-pandemic labor relations dynamics, but there’s also a hint of warning to unionized employers that unrest might come back even stronger this time.

Unions have called 24 strikes in the 10 weeks since March 11, the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. That total more than doubles the 11 strikes that took place in the same time period in 2020, when business shutdowns and employee furloughs left essential workers as the only ones with even the opportunity to walk off the job.

In the first year of the pandemic overall—from March 11, 2020, to March 10, 2021—only 79 workplace strikes were called, or about 1.5 per week. But 10 weeks into the second year, unions are averaging 2.4 strikes per week.

Context is important, of course. Comparing the current labor relations atmosphere to that of 2020 means that all findings come with a giant, coronavirus-shaped asterisk. And let’s not forget that work stoppages used to be far more common: As recently as 2005, employers were hit with 6.3 strikes in an average week. And that was a slow year.

But this uptick in work stoppages is showing signs of staying power that should not be ignored. With 11 strikes called in March and another 12 in April, employers faced their first back-to-back months with double-digit strike totals since 2019. If that becomes a trend, unions might not simply return to pre-pandemic strike levels, but surpass them.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can access, search, and run reports from the work stoppages database by using our Labor Plus: Organizing and Bargaining Data resource.

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