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News from EPI Major strike activity increased nearly 50% in 2022

The number of U.S. workers involved in major strikes rose to 120,600 in 2022, according to an EPI analysis of data released this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is a nearly 50% increase from the 80,700 workers involved in major worker stoppages in 2021, but it is still a significant decline from pre-pandemic levels in 2018 and 2019.  

Roughly a quarter of major work stoppages in 2022 occurred in public education and just over one-third of work stoppages occurred in the hospital subsector, including the largest private-sector nurses strike in U.S. history involving more than 15,000 nurses employed by the Twin Cities Hospitals Group in Minnesota in September 2022. The largest major work stoppage in 2022 consisted of approximately 48,000 workers at the University of California’s 10-campus system, which has been described as the largest higher education strike in U.S. history.  

Crucially, the BLS data do not capture all strike activity because it only includes strikes involving 1,000 or more workers lasting at least one full shift. For example, two large-scale strikes at Starbucks in 2022 were not included because of these size and duration limits. Workers at more than 110 Starbucks stores staged a one-day walkout on November 17, and workers at more than 100 stores engaged in a three-day strike in December in response to Starbucks’s refusal to bargain and its recent closing of unionized stores

“Workers are turning to strikes to fight for better wages and working conditions, as well as union recognition. This strike activity is occurring despite our broken labor law failing to adequately protect workers’ fundamental right to strike,” said Margaret Poydock, EPI policy analyst and government affairs specialist. 

U.S. workers have a limited right to strike compared with workers in other industrial nations—and the right may be further weakened in the upcoming Supreme Court case Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The case centers on the question of whether an employer’s suit for damages related to a strike is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which governs the right to strike. If the Supreme Court sides with the employer, it would upend decades of precedent surrounding the right to strike and leave workers with a significantly diminished ability to strike. 

The report calls on Congress to strengthen the right to strike, including by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Striking Workers Healthcare Protection Act. The report also urges state lawmakers to protect the right to strike for public-sector, agricultural, and domestic workers who are otherwise excluded from federal labor law.  

“The right to strike is a critical source of worker power, but that right could be under further threat from the Supreme Court,” said Jennifer Sherer, senior state policy coordinator for EPI’s Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) Worker Power Project. “We need Congress and state legislatures to step in and strengthen the right to strike by passing the PRO Act and other critical reforms.”