Union Strike Rates Plummet Much Faster than Union Membership Rates Drop

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3 has been on strike against Charter Communications-Spectrum for many months. Roughly 1,800 workers walked off the job to protest what they call unfair disciplinary actions and a bare-bones benefits package. Eight months and $4 million in strike funds later, the service technicians are still out of work and their unemployment insurance is running out. “Many workers have retired and many have gone on to other jobs,” the union said.

This strike is rare. Over the last 25 years, the number of strikes shrank by nearly 90%. That is roughly six times faster than union membership’s decline in the same time period.

Thinning union ranks take a considerable toll on union power, but a drop in strikes is equally problematic for the labor movement’s future.

Corporate conglomeration has played a key role in the decline of strikes. With more industries being controlled by fewer companies, large corporations have deeper pockets to wait out strikes, and boycotting their products is a lot harder than it used to be.

But some think a decline in strikes is attributable to a more congenial relationship between management and union leaders. Throughout the 80s and 90s business schools began emphasizing the importance of working with union leaders. The US also took a page out of Japan’s playbook. Business owners started using a Japanese management style they called “kaizen,” roughly translated as a change for the better. The process emphasizes communication between workers and management.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.

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