After 19 months of balancing their health and safety working the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, many low-wage workers have had enough. They are demanding higher wages, more rest and meal breaks, better benefits, and shorter work hours. From health care to Hollywood, nearly 100,000 U.S. workers are either striking or preparing to strike to improve working conditions.
More than 10,000 John Deere workers went on strike Thursday, and more than 24,000 health care workers at Kaiser Permanente and about 60,000 Hollywood workers, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, are preparing to strike. These workers join thousands of others who were recently forced to strike, such as Kellogg workers and Nabisco workers who just ended a week-long strike.
As the term “striketober”, appears online and on social media it’s evident that momentum is building.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in late September and October,” said Johnnie Kallas, a Ph.D. student at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, or ILR, who tracks labor actions across the U.S. “It’s a combination of two factors: Workers have more labor-market leverage with employers needing and struggling to hire, and then a lot of these workers have been on the front line of a global pandemic for the past 19 months and were touted as heroes, which has given them lots of leverage. “
The word “striketober”, as it appears online and on social networks, is clearly indicating that the actions are gaining momentum. Kallas stated that 174 strike had been documented as of Tuesday. A strike is defined by the ILR as any worker action that results in a halt to work. The total strike by John Deere brings it to 175.
The simultaneous worker activism is called a “strikewave”, according to Kate Bronfenbrenner (director of labor education research at ILR).
“Strikes are contagious for workers and unions,” she stated. There are common issues that are driving workers to strike. Workers are looking at one another and inspiring each other. “
There have been many strikes in American history when working conditions reached a certain threshold and workers refused them.
” These lessons must be learned repeatedly,” Bronfenbrenner stated.
In some cases, the pandemic gave workers time to think about their priorities and allowed them to have a refreshed perspective Others saw the pandemic as a reminder of workers’ willingness to risk their lives in exchange for little pay.
“Covid was an alarming sign that you weren’t only at risk of being injured on the job but also that going to work could cause death,” Bronfenbrenner stated. “Workers feel like they are working harder than ever, and they put their lives on the line during Covid. “
Catherine Fisk is a professor at University of California, Berkeley School of Law who specializes on employment and labor law.
“These workers were vital for the low-wage. Fisk stated that they faced high mortality rates, but couldn’t afford housing and health care. “Now, there’s this activism born of despair. “
“Workers are feeling like they’re working harder than ever and they put themselves out there during Covid and risked their lives for what? “
Fisk stated that social media has aided their efforts by democratizing communication. This allows workers to not only get their messages out, but also to increase the reach of their companies and appeal to the public for support. She stated that media is paying more attention and connecting people to low wages and labor standards to address inequalities of wealth.
” This attention allows and sometimes empowers workers to use them to try to gain political leverage,” Fisk stated.
More strikes will likely occur in the fall of next years, which coincides with the midterm election, according to Tim Schlittner (communications director at the AFL-CIO).
” This wave has been long in coming. Schlittner stated that she believes it will carry to the midterm elections because workers are fed up with the political system which fails to deliver results. “Working people will be searching for candidates who are aligned to their values, including the right of organizing. He suggested that this is where the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (or PRO Act) might be useful. Although the act passed in the House, it has been stalled by the Senate. Experts say it is putting a unique pressure on companies.
Bronfenbrenner said the PRO Act, coupled with continued public scrutiny, could discourage companies from taking extreme action against strikes. She stated that poor company behavior could make the act more likely to pass, something most employers do not want.
Bronfenbrenner said that unions and workers faced a major setback during the Trump administration but that things have already changed under President Joe Biden. She stated that the National Labor Relations Board is more aggressive in enforcing and cracking down against employers who intimidate workers to stop them striking. She said that this type of support can help workers feel more empowered.
Schlittner said: “No worker wants to go on strike. These strikes are of necessity and refusal to settle. It is a huge sacrifice to quit your job and the security and pay that it brings. Strike is a courageous act of courage. “