Who's on Strike? Mapping Labor Disputes Across Manufacturing, Healthcare, and Hollywood
This year has been marked with historically high temperatures for the planet—but relations between unions and employers have heated up as well. So far in 2023, four different major unions, which together represent more than 390,000 workers, have gone on strike. While some strikes have ended, others are just getting started and could significantly impact their industry and businesses’ operations.
Security professionals need to remain aware of unionization movements and strike activity to ensure they do not step over any legal lines around labor organizing.
"Any violations of labor laws—such as interrogation or intimidation—could result in penalties from the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board], including greater access of union organizers onto company premises," wrote Security Management in 2022. "Interference in a union election can also form the basis to overturn an election result, putting the organization in a tough position and giving union representatives more material to use against employers."
So, to keep you updated on the latest major strike activity in the United States, here's a brief roundup.
Writers Guild of America (WGA)
On 2 May 2023, WGA members walked from their jobs after six weeks of labor negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failed to result in a deal. The guild represents approximately 11,500 writers who work on movies and shows throughout the American entertainment industry.
The guild’s contract with the AMPTP expired on 1 May at midnight, and without a new one that the parties could agree to, union members officially went on strike at 12:01 a.m. the next day.
“The last time there was a writers strike, in 2007-2008, work stopped for 100 days and cost $2.1 billion to California’s economy alone,” according to Vox.
One of the key issues between the guild and the AMPTP was establishing a minimum wage for television and film writers. During negotiations, the WGA proposed that writers would gain roughly $429 million in total per year. The AMPTP countered with an increase to about $86 million.
“Over the decades, entertainment has been a highly profitable business, weathering periodic downturns but consistently rebounding,” the WGA wrote in a March 2023 explainer. “In 2000, the combined entertainment operating profits of Disney, Fox, Paramount, NBC, Universal, and Time Warner were approximately $5 billion. By 2019, adding in Netflix, they were $30 billion out of more than $50 billion in total company profits and remained almost as high through the pandemic. Even excluding news and sports networks, entertainment profits were estimated to be more than $20 billion in 2021.”
Another issue was the use of artificial intelligence (AI), with the guild hoping to limit use of generative AI or chatbots like ChatGPT to research or support instead of as a way to potentially replace script writers.
On 24 September, the WGA announced that it had tentatively reached an agreement. “We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional—with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the guild announced.
This year’s strike finally ended on 27 September, after 148 days, with an estimated economic impact of more than $3 billion.
But the strikes in Hollywood aren’t over.
Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)
The American actors’ union—which boasts 160,000 members—joined striking writers along the picket line on 14 July after their own union representatives had to walk away from the negotiating table with the AMPTP. Although the previous contract expired on 30 June, a two-week extension stalled the strike.
The SAG-AFTRA raised similar issues as the writer’s guild, concerned over the potential uses of AI, while also pointing to other changes within the entertainment industry, such as streaming and how it impacts actors’ compensation when it comes to reruns, syndication, and streaming media.
“As it has since the parties’ first set of negotiations in July, the actors guild wants the casts of successful streaming shows to receive 2 percent of profits. As they have since this summer and consistently since SAG-AFTRA went out on strike on July 14, the AMPTP have rejected the proposal due to differences over analytics and their take on the overall business model of streaming,” Deadline reported.
📆 Our weekly picket schedule is in! We'll be at the AMPTP's doorstep, demanding justice and fairness every day. We're not going anywhere until a fair deal is on the table. Stay prepared, stay resolute, stay #SagAftraStrong! 🚀💼 pic.twitter.com/abOhwe14oN— SAG-AFTRA (@sagaftra) October 2, 2023
The last labor strike started by actors occurred in 1980, lasting for three months and three days.
While the WGA ended its strike at the end of September 2023, it issued a statement in support of for SAG-AFTRA, promising that WGA members would continue to show up along picket lines for the actors’ guild. “Solidarity forever,” it said.
Negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP resumed on 2 October after almost three months, although picketers continued to protest in Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere, according to Deadline. While an agreement has not yet been reached, a joint statement from both parties said “Negotiations will continue on Friday, October 6, with the parties working internally over the weekend, resuming Monday October 9.”
United Auto Workers (UAW)
Representing American auto workers , the UAW labor union—which represents an estimated 145,000 members—initiated a strike against the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis. The strike, which began on 15 September 2023, does not order the union's entire membership to walk out. Instead, only specific facilities are seeing walk-outs, decreasing the production of U.S. vehicles by roughly 30 percent.
One of the most significant issues at the heart of negotiations for the UAW is that workers’ wages have not increased to account for inflation over the past four years. The union is also hoping to end a tiered employment system and introduce a four-day workweek, as well as additional protections for workers while the industry must deal with an increasing demand for electric vehicles.
The strike is expected to have multiple impacts, including on the price of cars.
“Any agreement will raise costs, but a rise in productivity over the past 20 years provides a buffer against the need to increase vehicle prices. Labor costs are also just 5 percent of manufacturing expenses, so a 46 percent settlement would only increase costs by 2 percent over four years. That may be enough, though, to provide a price disadvantage for US-made vehicles,” S&P Global Market Intelligence reported.
The strike could be a new reason for supply chain woes, with decreased production meaning fewer parts from exporters in Canada, Mexico, and Taiwan, S&P added.
It’s also become political, with U.S. President Joe Biden siding with striking auto workers, encouraging them to continue fighting for better wages.
But employers are taking action as well. Ford announced it would be laying off 400 workers at a Michigan plant, blaming the ongoing strike. This announcement came on top of 930 layoffs at other facilities, according to the Detroit Free Press.
General Motors also announced layoffs of more than 1,800 workers at plants in Indiana, Kansas, New York, and Ohio.
Stellanis announced it laid of 350 UAW members, too, in Ohio.
Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions
On Wednesday, the members of this union announced a three-day strike in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Altogether these unions represent roughly 85,000 health workers, and an estimated 75,000 are expected to be on strike, impacting hospitals and clinics.
The strike came after more than six months of bargaining between the unions and Kaiser Permanente, and after the previous contract expired on 30 September without a new one ready.
One of the largest issues in this strike is a shortage in staffing, which workers say was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Union members claim that this “has led to tough working conditions that make it increasingly difficult to retain Kaiser employees, while also simultaneously leading to a deterioration in the quality of care for Kaiser's patients,” NPR reported.
Other issues include wages, an education fund, and improved benefits and work conditions.