UAW strikes may lead to largest labor activity in 40 years

The number of workers going on strike in the United States shows no signs of slowing down this fall, continuing what has been dubbed the "summer of strikes." According to data from Johnnie Kallas, a PhD candidate at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and the project director of the ILR Labor Action Tracker, 362,000 workers have gone on strike so far in 2023, compared to 36,600 during the same period in 2021.

Kallas attributes this increase to workers' frustration with rising income inequality. The potential expansion of strikes by the United Auto Workers union could result in 2023 having the highest number of strikes since 1986.

However, going on strike carries risks for workers. They may face consequences such as losing their job and health insurance. Sharon Block, a professor at Harvard Law School and the executive director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy, highlights the weak labor laws that put workers at risk.

The right to strike is protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935. All workers covered by the NLRA have the right to participate in lawful strikes. This includes both union and non-union workers, as long as they act collectively.

However, there are exceptions. Workers in the private sector covered by the Railway Labor Act (RLA) have different procedures and obstacles to overcome before they can strike. Government employees in most states are prohibited from striking, with only a few allowing certain public sector workers to strike.

Workers who go on strike risk their job security. While they cannot be fired or discriminated against for striking under the NLRA, economic strikers can be permanently replaced. If a replacement leaves, the striking worker must be offered the position first.

During a strike, workers lose their wages, and health insurance benefits are often suspended or ended. Employers may choose not to immediately remove employees from health insurance coverage to avoid further conflict.

There is no federal law guaranteeing jobless benefits for strikers, but some states, such as New York and New Jersey, provide limited unemployment coverage. A bill in Massachusetts is being considered that would offer unemployment benefits to strikers after 30 days of a labor dispute.

Overall, the "summer of strikes" continues into the fall, fueled by workers' frustration with income inequality. Going on strike carries risks, including job loss and loss of benefits, but the right to strike is protected by the NLRA, with some exceptions and limitations.


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