Feb 12, 2020 - Economy & Business

Work stoppages from labor disputes rose to a two-decade high in 2019

United Auto Workers union members striking in October

United Auto Workers union members striking in October 2019. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

3.24 million work days were lost to labor strikes and lockouts in 2019, the most since 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why it matters: Labor disputes can cost workers and businesses in missed wages, decreased productivity and stunted revenues.

By the numbers: There were 25 labor disputes involving more than 1,000 workers last year, the most since 2001.

  • 425,500 workers joined work stoppages, with 270,000 in the educational services industry alone.

Between the lines: Labor disputes may increase when the job market tightens, giving workers more leverage in negotiations for higher wages or expanded benefits, according to the Wall Street Journal.

  • The unemployment rate fell to a 50-year low in 2019, but wages only increased by 2.9% — the lowest level in a year and a half and well below the 2018 average of 3.3%, Axios' Dion Rabouin reports.
  • United Auto Workers' 40-day General Motors strike was the largest dispute, totaling 1.33 million days of lost labor and involving 46,000 workers.
  • GM reported a profit hit of 8.7% in Q3 of 2019 as a result of the stoppage.

The big picture: Labor union membership fell by 0.2% in 2019, Axios' Orion Rummler reports.

  • Only 10.3% (14.6 million) of wage and salary workers said they were union members, and around half of the members lived in just seven states — California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington.

Go deeper: Unions shrink fast in swing states

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