Oct 16, 2021 - Economy

New wave of strikes will test worker power

Illustration of an angry-looking briefcase-shaped power outlet with the chord being pulled out

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Thousands of John Deere workers hit the picket line this week after the union smacked down a new worker contract from the farm and equipment maker.

Why it matters: There’s a wave of worker angst spreading across the country. They wield new power that’s come with a historic worker shortage.

  • “We’ve never had the deck stacked in our advantage the way it is now," Chris Laursen, a worker at an Ottha, Iowa-based John Deere plant told the New York Times.
  • “The company is reaping such rewards, but we’re fighting over crumbs here.”

From Hollywood studios to factories, the work stoppages could threaten America’s recovery — already plagued by a shortage of stuff.

  • The union that represents Hollywood crews — 60,000 film set workers around the country — is threatening to strike starting Monday, putting more pressure on studios to offer better labor conditions and higher pay. 
  • If it happens, it would “bring film and television productions across the country to a standstill and would be the biggest Hollywood labor dispute in more than a decade,” the LA Times reports

And for the first time in almost 50 years, production at Kellogg cereal plants across America is in limbo as 1,400 workers walked off the job in a bid for better benefits (and worries about job outsourcing), threatening the supply of cereal on shelves.

The big picture: Workers are harder to come by, possibly giving employees more leverage for demands. That could be one reason why strikes, while rebounding, are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

  • But some employers aren't bending first, causing enough of a stalemate to invite strikes in the first place.

The bottom line: Workers — fed up that employers’ pandemic-era boom times aren’t translating into better pay, benefits and working conditions — are hitting the picket lines.

  • “Kellogg is making record profits. The executives are reaping the benefits off our backs,” Daniel Osborn, a maintenance planner at Kellogg's Omaha, Nebraska, plant told Axios last week.
  • Osborn is the local head of the national union behind the weeks-long strike at Nabisco factories that ended after the company agreed to the workers' request to keep their health care plans intact.
Go deeper