Set off by a spate of high-profile October walkouts, the fourth quarter of 2021 finished as the busiest quarter on U.S. picket lines in more than a decade. But even though “Striketober”—as the month was widely dubbed—is over, labor relations attorneys would do well to see it not as a one-time phenomenon, but as the continuation of a trend of unrest that’s been building since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic downturn. And it shows no sign of slowing down.
Bloomberg Law’s labor data show that labor unions initiated 58 strikes in the final three months of the year, the highest quarterly total since 64 strikes were called in Q2 2010. That increase boosts 2021’s final strike total to 169, more than in any year since 2012.
Headline-grabbing October strikes at Deere & Co. (10,100 workers) and Kellogg Co. (1,400 workers), among others, helped drive a fourth-quarter resurgence in manufacturing-sector walkouts. Of the decade-high total of 50 manufacturing strikes that began in 2021, 18 took place in Q4.
The truth is, unions’ picketing power—both inside and outside the factory—has been steadily building throughout what has become known as the Great Resignation. The total number of strikes has increased or held steady in every quarter since Q2 2020, to the point that unions aren’t just recovering their pre-pandemic momentum—they’re surpassing it.
This trend holds interesting potential for a labor movement that’s still calling for strikes at well below historical levels. (Work stoppage totals were as high as 200 in 2007, 400 in 2000, and 800 in 1990.)
And it’s a run that unions will be keen to continue long after “Striketober” is forgotten.
After all, October’s total of 21 strikes didn’t even make it the top month of the year: That would be November, with 25.
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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