The Law @ Work

Unions Strike Back

by Timothy F. Murphy

Is the strike back? There were 20 major work strikes in 2018 that idled almost 500,000 workers.  Both the number of major strikes—defined by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics as those involving 1,000 or more workers— and the total number of workers involved was the highest in years.

Teacher strikes led the way in 2018. The largest involved 81,000 Arizona teachers and staff. The second largest stoppage involved the Oklahoma Education Association, accounting for 405,000 days idle. Others occurred in West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, and North Carolina.

According to the BLS, educational services and health care and social assistance industry groups accounted for over 90 percent of all workers idled in 2018. Between 2009 and 2018 the educational services and health care and social assistance industries accounted for nearly one half of all major work stoppages.

Yet, thousands of hotel workers struck 23 Marriott Hotels in 8 cities, including Boston, across the country last September. With the catchy slogan of “One Job Should be Enough” the striking workers grabbed media attention and wrested some concessions from Marriott in settling the strike.

Even some 20,000 non-union workers at Google walked off the job in 2018 over the way the company was handling sexual harassment complaints against top managers.

The 1970s was the heyday of the strike when the annual average of major strikes was 288. Since 1981, the number of annual major work strikes has steadily declined. In 2009, as the Great Recession hit with full force, there were only 5 major work stoppages. And while we may never return to the heyday of the strike there are some signs that the strike may be back for now. 

The full BLS report on 2018 work stoppages can be found at

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