The dust has finally settled after what has been dubbed “the great resignation” in which, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4.4 million workers quit their jobs in September 2021. The labor force has thinned and employers are finding themselves desperate to fill positions. Now, with the aptly named “Striketober” and "Strikesgiving" behind us, we are seeing labor unions taking full advantage of this changing playing field to utilize newfound leverage to fight for workers. Construction unions may be waiting for an opportunity to take action just in time for the already trending, "Strikesmas."
Workers are leaving their jobs and refusing to return for pay rates and conditions that are unacceptable. Especially hard hit are companies that utilize a nonunionized workforce where lower pay and no benefits are the norms. “The nonunion workers simply don't want to stay in or return to back-breaking or mind-numbing jobs," said Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, in an essay written for the Guardian.
In October, 10,000 employees at John Deere hit the picket lines while 1400 workers at Kellogg went on strike as well. In Southern California, 32,000 nurses were threatening to strike and in Hollywood, a walkout was narrowly averted when terms were met with members of the International Alliance of Theatrical workers.
In an interview with CNN, Tim Schlittner, communications director for the AFL-CIO said, "I think workers do feel newfound leverage in this moment, especially coming out of the pandemic where they were deemed essential, rather than considered expendable. They're making the decision they will no longer settle for less."
The Department of Labor reported that pay rose 1.5% from July to September and the value of benefits increased .9% from the second quarter. Christopher Rugaber of the Associated Press says, "Workers have gained the upper hand in the job market for the first time in at least two decades, and they are commanding higher pay, more benefits, and other perks like flexible work hours."
The data suggests that the threat of worker walkouts paired with the growing labor shortage means that workers can have leverage in demanding more from their employers. On the other end of the spectrum, unorganized workers are eschewing a return to their old jobs altogether and opting for situations that pay better.
The construction industry
Chris Isidore of CNN reports that, of the 4.3 million workers who quit their jobs in August, "...the overwhelming majority of whom are not members of a union."
Nonunion workers in the construction industry have many of the same gripes as disgruntled workers in other industries. This dissatisfaction has led to an exodus of nonunion workers from construction sites that is paralleling the walk-outs taking place in other industries. Charles Krugel, a management-side labor attorney in Chicago said to Construction Dive, "You've got a lot of uncertainty with all the different factors facing construction today, from labor shortages to materials. It gives labor unions a leg up on contractors, so you're bound to see more labor action, either in the form of picketing or striking of construction sites."
The intersection between the unfolding labor shortage meeting the effects of supply chain disruption is leaving contractors with their backs against the wall. Additionally, the impending national vaccine mandate looks to exacerbate the situation for employers as the vaccine hesitancy rate is high among construction workers. All of this gives unions more cards at the table as they have the ability to better process the mandate within their own ranks, and they always have a skilled and trained workforce at the ready to fulfill manpower needs at a moment's notice.
"What we're facing now gives unions leverage at the bargaining table, whether they strike or not," Mark Erlich, former executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. said in the same Construction Dive article. "It at least will help them get better agreements."
With last weeks passing of the $1 trillion infrastructure package, there is a massive influx of jobs on the horizon. The race will soon be on to fill all of the positions and hit the ground running in the aftermath of the stymied workflow affecting all industries over the past two years. Whether construction unions take part in "Strikesmas" will depend on whether Union demands have been met and workers' quality of life is part of the White House's charge to "Build Back Better."