- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2022

Union strikes are on the rise this year, coupled with a surge in organizing, as the tight labor market emboldens employees under the Biden administration to make more demands.

Cornell University’s labor action tracker counted 288 strikes in the U.S. this year as of Friday, including at the Oakland Unified School District in California and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That’s an increase of almost 80% over the 163 worker walkouts during the same period last year.

Requests for the National Labor Relations Board to hold union elections increased 58% in the first three quarters from fiscal 2021 to 2022. Workers have won union elections at major companies including Starbucks, Amazon, Google, Trader Joe’s and Verizon.

The NLRB said claims of unfair labor practice increased 16% during the same period this year.

The increased union activity, analysts said, is spurred primarily by a shortage of workers. Job openings rose unexpectedly by 199,000 in July to 11.2 million.

“Employers are really scratching just to find anybody to fill spots,” said Sean Higgins, a labor specialist at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington. “And a lot of workers have realized how much of a commodity they are as a consequence. And that gives them more leverage to do this.”

Intervention by President Biden and his top advisers averted a strike last month by as many as 150,000 freight railroad workers. A work stoppage would have led to further supply disruptions and likely pushed inflation even higher. Consumer price increases hit a 41-year high this summer.

Twelve unions are voting on a tentative rail agreement, which includes 24% pay raises over five years and bonuses of at least $5,000. Ratification isn’t certain. Workers have expressed dissatisfaction with the sick time policies.

Large strikes this year included a three-day walkout by 15,000 nurses in Minnesota, more than 4,500 teachers and staff in Columbus, Ohio, more than 6,000 teachers and staff in Seattle, and 1,200 casting plant workers at Stellantis in Indiana.

In the first six months of this year, 78,000 workers went on strike, up from 26,500 in the first half of 2021.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler is proudly calling this month “Striketober.”

“Can you feel the chill in the air?” she tweeted. “Strikes for 2022 so far have significantly outpaced strike activity in 2021!!!”

Mr. Biden is fond of saying he wants to lead “the most pro-union administration in American history.”

“When unions win, workers across the board win,” Mr. Biden said at a labor event last month. “That’s a fact. Families win, community wins, America wins. We grow. And despite this, workers have been getting cut out of the deal for too long a time.”

The pandemic created difficult working conditions in many sectors, including health care and service industries. Resentment rose as workers quit, and those who remained on the job often faced longer hours.

Adding to those frustrations is inflation running at a four-decade high, wiping out wage gains. The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates five times this year to slow inflation, but that course of action risks job losses and a recession.

Fed officials are concerned about a “wage-price spiral” in which higher prices push up wages, which leads to even higher prices. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said the central bank has not yet seen firm evidence of such a trend.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Wage Growth Tracker did show wages rising in August at a rate of 6.7%, the highest in decades. The annual inflation rate in September was simmering at 8.3%.

Mr. Higgins said labor costs are bound to keep rising as a response to increased organizing combined with the impact of a labor shortage.

“We do run the risk of a wage-price spiral if this continues,” he said.

Jeremy Siegel, a finance professor at the Wharton School of Business, told CNBC recently that he doesn’t believe wages are driving inflation. He said the trend of pay raises appears to be a catch-up instead of a cause.

“It seems to me wrong for Powell to say we’re going to crush wage increases, we’re going to crush the worker, when that is not the cause of the inflation. The cause of the inflation was excessive monetary accommodation for the last two years,” Mr. Siegel said.

The five-member National Labor Relations Board, technically an independent agency but controlled by Biden appointees, has also helped unions and organizers flex their muscles in the past two years.

Critics say the board has taken aggressive positions that encourage union activism.

The NLRB proposed a “joint employer” rule last month that conservatives and the business community say would hurt franchise owners by extending liability to franchisees for actions by corporations such as McDonald’s and Marriott.

Associated Builders and Contractors published a survey last week showing that 98% of its members oppose Mr. Biden’s proposed rule mandating project labor agreements (PLAs) on federal construction projects of $35 million or more. The group said PLAs “increase costs and exacerbate the construction industry’s skilled labor shortage because they exclude almost nine out of 10 workers from participating in these contracts.”

“The overwhelming opposition to PLA mandates demonstrates that fair and open competition on federal and federally assisted infrastructure projects is a win-win for taxpayers and the U.S. economy because it ensures all Americans and qualified companies are welcome to fairly compete to rebuild America’s infrastructure,” said Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs. “In contrast, the Biden administration’s proposed rule requiring government-mandated PLAs on federal contracts of $35 million or more, and other policies promoting PLAs on federally assisted construction projects, will needlessly increase costs by 12% to 20% and reduce competition from quality contractors and the 87.4% of construction workers who freely choose not to join a union.”

The Biden proposal would replace an executive order by President Obama in 2009 that encourages federal agencies to mandate PLAs on federal construction projects exceeding $25 million on a case-by-case basis. The proposed rule is expected to affect about 120 federal contracts valued at $10 billion per year.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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