Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Looking Back on a Summer of Unions

Over the past year, there has been an increase in labor strikes and efforts to establish unions. Some high-profile examples include Hollywood writers and actors in the SAG-AFTRA, fast food workers across the country and graduated student workers in the University of California system.

This comes as more than 353,000 workers have gone on strike since the beginning of the year. More strikes are also looming, such as a United Auto Workers (UAW) strike that may include as many as 150,000 workers.

Some of the workers’ demands include better pay, better sick leave and time off policies, and the end of two-tiered pay systems that unions claim are designed to divide workers.

Some strikes have also been relatively successful, such as a strike by UPS that union officials have lauded as historic, such as raising wages for part-time workers to $21 per hour.

An NPR report from February indicated that the total number of American workers in unions did grow in 2022 — by approximately 200,000. NPR reports the number of non-union jobs grew faster.

 Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics Ian Walling said the recent surge in unionization efforts has gained attention due to the heightened push to form unions at establishments such as Starbucks and other major corporations. 

“We’re seeing more strikes than we’re used to seeing and strikes with more ambitious goals than we’ve tended to see in a lot of sectors,” Walling said.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics Robert Flahive spoke about the significance of these strike actions within the broader context of workers’ rights.   

I hold out hope and remain committed to both the importance of such strike actions and to being in solidarity with striking workers,” Flahive wrote in an email to The Wire. “[Article 23 of the 1948] UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights stipulates the right to work in fair conditions, and as such, all stakeholders in public and private institutions, regardless of the size or location, should be actively working toward such aims not merely out of legal obligation, but out of principle.” 

Walling describes the current state of unions in the U.S. as a rapidly shrinking movement. 

“Unions … are still shrinking as a proportion of the American workforce and that’s especially true in traditional areas of Union Strength like manufacturing. So part of what we’re looking at when we’re looking at new unions is people unionizing areas that have traditionally never been unionized … increasingly the service economy,” Walling said. 

Walling suggests that as more diverse groups join the workforce, they are adopting labor organization methods previously associated with different jobs.

“Part of what lies behind that is the proletarianization of groups that didn’t use to be. Downward mobility in areas is driving people to a kind of labor organization they didn’t use to practice that was traditionally associated with other industries,” Walling said. 

Walling said the decrease in the unemployment rate allows for more unionization efforts.

“There are fewer unemployed people willing to step in and take their jobs [which] means that it’s harder for employers to replace workers who either quit or go on strike and that’s meant an increase in [union] bargaining power at least for now in a number of industries,” Walling said. “They’re pressing that advantage.” 

Walling explained that unions provide protections, including safety in numbers and promoting better benefits.

“There’s a lot of stuff about how unions affect the distribution of income and all of that, but in a very important sense, unions give you a voice in work. They make what is otherwise a dictatorship somewhat more democratic by giving you a voice about how you’re treated, and I think that’s a profoundly important thing.” 

The increase in labor activism and union growth are impacting various sectors and worker rights in the United States. These developments emphasize the constantly changing dynamics within the American workforce.

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