Biden Is Pushing Unions To Strike — But Not Just In The Way You Think

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Will Kessler Contributor
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  • The number of workers involved in work stoppages spiked 141% year-over-year in 2023, according to a report from Cornell University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • A decline in real wages has pushed workers to demand more in their union disputes and has contributed to an uptick in strikes, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • “Inflation is likely spurring some of the strike activity,” Sean Higgins, a labor policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the DCNF. “As workers’ buying power diminishes, they become more likely to try to pressure their employers for raises. Strikes are one way to do that.”

Pro-union policies and rhetoric from the Biden administration have encouraged a spike in the number of strikes in 2023, but a decline in real wages under the president’s tenure has also led to workers demanding higher pay, according to experts who spoke to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Around 539,000 workers were involved in work stoppages related to labor disputes in 2023, resulting in 470 different strikes or lockouts, up 141% year-over-year, according to the 2023 annual Labor Action Tracker report conducted by Cornell University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Biden administration’s pro-union policies have emboldened strikers, but inflation and declining real wages have also had an effect on pushing workers to ask for higher pay as businesses and employees cope with rising costs, experts told the DCNF. (RELATED: Inflation Missed Expectations In January. Are We Just Stuck With High Inflation Forever?)

“Inflation is likely spurring some of the strike activity,” Sean Higgins, a labor policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the DCNF. “As workers’ buying power diminishes, they become more likely to try to pressure their employers for raises. Strikes are one way to do that. With the labor market still historically tight, workers are in a good position to demand more. Employers are still struggling to fill some positions and loath to lose workers, especially trained ones, because they’re not sure they can fill the spots again if they must. So they’ve had to offer higher wages to attract or retain workers.”

Prices have risen 18% since President Joe Biden first took office in January 2021, with inflation peaking at 9.1% year-over-year in June 2022 and failing to recede below 3% since, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Real wages have also failed to keep up with rapid increases in inflation, declining over 4% compared to January 2021 when the number of hours worked per week is accounted for.

The consumer price index for January showed that prices increased 3.1% year-over-year, higher than expectations of 2.9%, throwing cold water on investor hopes that the Federal Reserve would cut its federal funds rate soon. Following the announcement, an increasing number of investors started projecting a “no landing” scenario where inflation stays elevated, but economic growth remains strong.

Many economists blame at least part of the rapid rise in inflation on the Biden administration’s high-spending policies, which have led to the national debt ballooning to more than $34 trillion before the end of 2023. Biden signed the American Rescue Plan in March 2021, authorizing $1.9 trillion in new spending, and the Inflation Reduction Act in August 2022, which added another $750 billion in new spending.

“Most union workers, like all Americans, became increasingly concerned about the rising effects of inflation and how their wages were not keeping up,” Austen Bannan, employment policy fellow with Americans for Prosperity, told the DCNF about the Biden administration. “Still, the difference between some uproar and public pushback versus coordinated strikes and walkouts is a result of President Biden having such open arms for labor union leaders.”

Biden pledged the night before the 2020 presidential election to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” and he has taken a number of actions to cater to unions, including creating a task force to investigate how the federal government could increase union membership. The Biden administration has also sought to increase the allocation of government projects to union workers, such as the government-funded installation of electric vehicle chargers and construction of high-speed rail projects.

“Union leaders have been emboldened by not only President Biden supporting their activism directly, such as visiting auto union picketers, but also through his regulatory agenda that is designed to reward and empower unions,” Bannan told the DCNF. “The extra assurances and regulatory tools directed at unions by the Biden administration through his Bidenomics agenda have led union leaders to push workers to strike more, which further strengthens the visibility and political influence the union leaders are looking for.”

Biden visited the United Auto Workers (UAW) on the picket line in Detroit, Michigan, on Sept. 26 in the midst of a strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis in an effort to show support for the strikers. The president has utilized political speeches and campaign appearances to emphasize his support for union workers in an effort to gain their votes, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noting that the uptick in strikes is the “natural result” of the Biden administration’s insistence on promoting unionization.

“Ironically, if the workers succeed, this can cause a wage-price spiral: the rising wages give the workers more buying power, which in turn sparks more inflation as goods are bought up,” Higgins told the DCNF. “This inflation prompts the workers to push for yet higher wages to keep track with inflation, and so the economy gets caught in a repeating cycle.”

Ford announced in November that increases from a new labor deal with the UAW would add $900 per vehicle by 2028, due to $8.8 billion in new labor costs from a 25% wage increase in the new union contract. UAW workers also pushed for cost-of-living adjustments in response to high inflation.

The United Parcel Service announced in January that it would be laying off around 12,000 employees due to increased labor costs following a new union deal with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in an effort to keep costs down and not considerably raise prices.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the DCNF.

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