By:  Ronald J. Kramer


Earlier this month the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issued its report of major work stoppages (strikes and lockouts) in 2012.  A link to the report is here  BLS reported 19 major strikes and lockouts beginning in 2012 involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting at least one shift.  While the number of new work stoppages was the same as in 2011, the number of idled workers and the number of idle work days were both up over 2011.  Indeed, the 1.13 million lost workdays due to labor disputes in 2012 was the most since 2008.

Before anyone pushes the panic button, that number is less than .005 percent of all work time in the U.S., and that annual percentage workday loss has been constant for the last five out of six years.  Moreover, of the 19 labor stoppages initiated in 2012, three were public sector teacher strikes in Illinois, including the Chicago Public Schools strike that topped the days idle list for new labor disputes at 185,500.  Eight were health care disputes — one a California public sector medical center dispute with SEIU and the remaining seven were California Nurses Association strikes brought against California hospitals (6 were against the same company).  And the labor dispute that resulted in the most idle work days — 308,100 — was an ongoing lockout of bakery workers.  In short, unless you are a teacher in Illinois, a locked out bakery worker at a certain sugar company (or technically a former Hostess bakery employee whose strike helped push the company to liquidate), or a medical facility with nurses represented by the CNA, not much of any major labor activity occurred last year.

Indeed, what is more interesting is a comparison of the reported major work stoppage activity over the years.  Roughly every ten years the reported activity and severity of the strikes and lockouts trends downward.  Even a simple look-back every 20 years is telling as to how much has changed:

Year Number of major stoppages begun Number of workers involved Number of days idle  Number days idle as a percentage of working time
2012 19 148,000 1,131,000 Less than .005
1992 35 364,000 3,989,000 .01
1972 250 975,000 16,764,000 .09
1952 470 2,746,000 48,820,000 .38

As the level of unionization in the country has decreased, so too has the number and severity of work stoppages.  Can it go any lower?  Will it start trending up?  Time will tell — but the labor movement has a long way to go to get anywhere close to 1952.