Hospital employees led some of the most significant strikes in the country: In California, tens of thousand of Kaiser Permanente nurses joined picket lines to support operating engineers demanding better wages. In Massachusetts, 700 nurses at Saint Vincent Hospital held on for 10 months, which was the longest strike of 2012.
Joyce Klein, a social worker, led an 18-day strike by more than 1,000 unionized workers at Chicago's Cook County hospitals. It ended with a pay increase and she hopes for more organizing in her field.
Klein stated, "This is just the beginning." I believe that people are at breaking point because of the pandemic. Now is the right time to see their success here, their ability organize and make demands. It will only get better from here.
Klein stated that she would not have been able to organize a strike without her union. It brought together people who worked in different lanes within the hospitals -- lab technicians, maintenance workers, physical therapists.
However, as the U.S. continues to see a decline in union membership -- now covering just over 10% of American workers - strike activity is not near historical highs, according to Nelson Lichtenstein, a University of California, Santa Barbara history professor who studies labor history in America.
Lichtenstein stated that "it's minimal compared to normal years from the'40s.50s.60s. and '70s."
Labor activity was led by the 10%-slice union workers. The union represented more than 95% of those who were involved in the stoppages. The Cornell researchers found that there were 24 strikes last year involving over 1,000 workers. However, in the 1970s, more than 200 major strikes were recorded by the Labor Department. In the 1980s, more than 100 major strikes were reported by the government. This was twice the amount it is today.
Last year saw disruptions in some other industries. Research found that labor action caused slowdowns within the education and manufacturing industries. Over 25,000 workers in the manufacturing sector remained off the job for more than one million days. This is more than one third of the time Americans went on strike last year. The largest strike in the year was led by unionized John Deere workers, who remained off the job for much of October and November. These are the most active months of strike activity overall.
More than 13,000 people refused to work in protest in the education sector, including 15 bus drivers who organized "sickouts," where they called in sick to protest low pay and understaffing in their respective districts.
In 2021, the most desired demands of workers were for better pay, better healthcare, and retirement benefits.
"There is a tight labor market, and an increase of inflation. Johnnie Kallas, Ph.D. candidate and project director at the ILR School's Labor Action Tracker, said that he believes that is part of the story. "I believe that workers have been on the frontline for a global pandemic for nearly two years and they've also been struggling with stagnant wages for a while."
The Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations's first annual report provides the most comprehensive snapshot of America's labor movement since 1981 when budget cuts caused the Labor Department to stop recordingstrike activity involving less than 1,000 workers. According to Kallas, there were 260 strikes in 2013, but less than two dozen will be reported in the Labor Department’s annual strike report.
Kallas stated that there are many obstacles workers face when trying to organize, or strike. "And the question is: can some of these gains from this recent activity be sustained over the long-term?"