How many labor strikes occur every year in the United States?

Published on September 16th 2019

The United Auto Workers (UAW) called its first strike since 2007 this week, sending more than 49,000 workers to the picket lines.

The strike is one of the two largest work stoppages at a private company since 2007, when an estimated 74,000 people walked off the job at General Motors facilities for three days, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The instances of strikes and lockouts, two types of work stoppages, have dwindled considerably since 1981, when 145 work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers each occurred. In 2018, there were 20 similar work stoppages.

Work stoppages by month since January 1981

The decline in work stoppages comes as the number of union workers (and those not in unions but represented by union contracts) has declined in terms of numbers and proportion since the 1980s. In 1985, there were 36.3 million such workers, about a third of the workforce. There were 31.1 million such workers in 2018, representing 20% of the overall workforce.

Union workers and non-union workers in America

The number of workers involved in work stoppages has fallen in recent years as well. In 2018, a total of 485,200 employees were involved in work stoppages. That’s down 33% from the 728,900 workers in stoppages in 1981.

Many of the large work stoppages since the 2007 UAW strike have involved public workers, specifically teachers. The largest such strike occurred in May 2018, when 123,000 educators in North Carolina walked off the job for a day. Excluding auto industry strikes, the largest private company work stoppage in the past decade occurred in August 2011, when 45,000 union workers at Verizon Wireless went on strike.

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Sources

Bureau of Labor Statistics Work Stoppage database: The agency notes that the data is “gathered from public news sources, such as newspapers and the Internet. “ It does not distinguish between strikes and lock-outs in the data. Strikes are usually initiated by workers while lock-outs are initiated by management.