The recent accomplishments of the UAW, UPS, and Hollywood-writer unions through strikes or the threat of strikes have been noteworthy. For instance, auto workers received a 25% raise, while UPS drivers are on track to earn an eventual salary of $170,000. Just last week, the actors' union reached a deal hailed as "extraordinary," and striking Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers secured a 21% pay increase.
Insider spoke with workforce and union experts who highlighted several reasons contributing to the current climate of worker empowerment. One significant factor is the substantial profits reported by many companies in recent years, making unionizing an attractive option for workers seeking to claim a share of these profits. Moreover, low unemployment rates and strong consumer spending have played a pivotal role in recent union victories. When workers have alternative job opportunities and companies face pressure to meet customer demand, unions are better positioned to negotiate favorable agreements.
While only 11% of US workers are currently represented by a union capable of taking similar actions to those in the news, the same forces driving union success could motivate non-union workers to consider unionizing or leveraging their bargaining power during salary negotiations. Experts anticipate that workers in industries such as auto, healthcare, education, and food service will demand more from their employers in the years ahead.
There are several factors that could motivate workers to advocate for better conditions and wages. Industries experiencing rising discontent among workers and favorable economic conditions often become breeding grounds for union activities. For example, the healthcare sector, which recently witnessed the largest healthcare strike in US history, has been plagued by high rates of burnout and stress, especially exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The aging US population's increasing demand for healthcare services, coupled with a shortage of nurses, may provide healthcare workers with the leverage to seek improved compensation and working conditions.
Similar circumstances could arise in other industries where workers faced hardships during the pandemic and continue to grapple with labor shortages. Teachers, childcare professionals, and food service workers, among others, may recognize the strength that comes from standing together to improve their working conditions. Additionally, concerns about job replacement by artificial intelligence (AI) might also play a role in motivating workers to organize and advocate for their rights.
Furthermore, if the economy remains robust, corporations such as Amazon and Starbucks, previously considered untouchable, could face increased worker movements and unionization efforts. The auto industry, with only 16% of US workers unionized, might also witness more labor movements following the UAW strike.
Worker movements often exhibit contagious tendencies. Successful strikes have historically inspired further strikes, as evidenced by research spanning several decades. Current economic trends, coupled with public and political support, have created favorable conditions for unions. The high public approval ratings for labor unions, the backing of President Biden, and the reluctance of companies to retaliate against striking workers out of fear of consumer backlash have all contributed to the momentum of unions.
It is important to note that the economic conditions driving union activities and demands for higher pay may not persist indefinitely. Recent months have seen a slight rise in the unemployment rate, a decrease in job openings from record highs, and the anticipation of headwinds that might impede consumer spending. However, despite these challenges, labor movements are expected to continue in the near term due to worker dissatisfaction, economic trends, public support, and the influence of previous successful strikes.
In conclusion, the recent successes of worker movements, particularly the UAW, UPS, and Hollywood-writer labor movements, have inspired discussions about the potential for similar actions in other industries. Healthcare, food service, and education sectors are likely to witness increased demands for improved worker conditions and wages. Factors such as company profits, low unemployment rates, strong consumer spending, and public support have all contributed to the current climate of worker empowerment. As industries continue to grapple with challenges like burnout, labor shortages, and the potential impact of AI, workers are recognizing the strength that comes from standing together to achieve their goals.