A recent spate of strikes could be a sign of things to come in 2013, according to several leading labor experts. Thomas Kochan, co-director of the Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at MIT, explained to NPR this week that declining job satisfaction and pent-up frustrations are causing workers to hit a boiling point and that "more of those pressures [will] explode" since many workers aren’t feeling relief in the economic recovery:
"If you look at the national data, you see a decline in job satisfaction and you see tremendous frustration, particularly among younger workers who recognize they can’t get the kinds of jobs they’ve been educated for, that they can’t support their families or earn the kinds of incomes that their parents earned at comparable stages in life," he says.
Union leaders express the hope that successful strikes will influence other workers to strike, since employees across industries watch the outcomes closely. In the same NPR piece, Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, called the recent Wal-mart strikes "an inspiration" to striking port workers in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Still most commentators agree that the struggling economy makes striking a risky proposition. "In tough times, unions are not going to win; it’s all about cutting their losses," explains Julius Getman, a labor scholar and law professor at the University of Texas at Austin in a recent interview.
At least one commentator sees the outcomes of the recent high profile strikes as more prescient than the occurrence of the strikes. In the Dallas Morning News, Mitchell Schnurman suggests that recent strike outcomes reflect a new reality for unions. He cites small gains by the unions in the recent NFL and Lockheed Martin strikes, and the cautionary tale of the Hostess strike that resulted in the liquidation of the company. This new reality, Schnurman explains, will require union leaders to redefine success in a way that takes the tough economic realities into account in order to effectively represent their members into 2013 and beyond.
Additional Resources and Commentary:
- "Further Port Strife Looms" — Wall Street Journal
- "Fast Food Labor Strikes: What Will Happen If Workers Have It Their Way" — Daily Finance
- "Looming Strike Spurs Supply Chain Angst" — CFO