Feds: Major Labor Strikes Have Declined Over The Years

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Employees from a range of industries have refused working for a number of reasons, but over the decades the number of strikes has declined steadily, according to a report Monday.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked work stoppages annually since 1947, when it reported 270 major strikes involving 1,629,000 workers. Since that time, the number of strikes has steadily decreased — in just the past year there were only 12 major strikes involving 47,000 workers.

“From 2010 to 2015, the number of major work stoppages ranged from 11 to 19,” the report noted. “In 2009, there were 5 major work stoppages recorded, the lowest of any year since the series began in 1947. In general, the number of major work stoppages has declined over time.”

There are a number of reasons for workers to go on strike — they may have a fundamental disagreement with their employer or it could be due to strenuous union contract negotiations. The slight rise since 2009 could be due to the recent recession and the pressure it has put on workers and employers.

The 1940s was a time known for significant labor discontent. Union membership was expanding rapidly after decades of civil strife and great civil unrest. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act had empowered labor unions to fight employers, but a decade later they too had to be reined in. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act restricted the activities and power of labor unions that had become uncontrollable.

Decades later, the labor disputes of the past became a distant memory in the collective minds of Americans. The rise of labor membership too rolled back into the oceans of time. The labor disputes that gave rise to the American labor movement, and even communist sympathizers, was no more.

Nevertheless, labor disputes are still in some capacity something industries must face. Contract negotiations involving West Coast port operators nearly put commerce on a standstill in the last two years. The dispute began in May 2014 when the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) were unable to agree on a new labor contract.

The inability to come to a deal and the resulting port congestion prompted economic problems in many industries. It wasn’t until pressure from President Barack Obama and a visit from Labor Secretary Tom Perez in February 2015, that the two sides were able to reach an agreement.

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