Two thousand workers at a manufacturing plant in Northern Wisconsin have been walking the picket line since mid-November. Such a strike would have been commonplace a decade ago. Nowadays, it’s a rarity. While labor has become adept at hit-and-run publicity strikes like the “Fight for $15” one-day stunts, major strikes of over 1,000 workers are few and far between. Even rarer are open-ended strikes at an industrial plant. I estimate that more days of work have been lost in two-weeks at the manufacturing plant than in 5 years of fast food walkouts. Solidarity in strikes is a thing of the past. Gone are the days when a union’s membership stood behind strikers, fundraised for strikers, took care of kids and homes while their brother stood vigilant on the line. This strike may be different.
The manufacturing plant workers are represented by the UAW – the union that represents the Big Three automakers in Detroit. The UAW entered into contract negotiations with Ford, GM, and Chrysler this summer and boasted that it had amassed a record high strike fund and wasn’t afraid to use it. Those negotiations unexpectedly wrapped up without a hitch. No strike, no drain on the strike fund. Perhaps the UAW is burning some of the strike fund earmarked for the Big Three on workers in Wisconsin. Perhaps that’s why the manufacturing plant strike has staying power. And, perhaps this strike is the beginning of a resurgence of large-scale, open-ended strikes.
Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.