Labor

John Deere, Kellogg’s, Hollywood: Striketober 2021 explained

It’s not as historic as you might think, but still worth paying attention to.
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· 3 min read

The sun is setting earlier, the Great Pumpkin will rise any minute now, and thousands of workers are heading to the picket lines, prompting the media and labor organizers to declare that “Striketober” is suddenly upon us.

The cause of some of these walkouts can be directly traced to changes wrought by the pandemic, but many of them have their roots in issues that have catalyzed strikes for generations. Let’s take a closer look.

Striketober? More like Strike-Uptick-tober

More than 10,000 John Deere employees went on strike October 14, while roughly 1,400 Kellogg’s workers walked off the job on October 5. And 60,000 film crew workers were poised to strike, until an eleventh-hour deal averted a shutdown earlier this month.

But Marick Masters, a management professor at Wayne State University, told HR Brew that despite the media spotlight, Striketober isn’t really historic—at least in terms of size.

“We see a lot of reports in the media about strike activity, and they’re calling it ‘Striketober’ because people think there’s this plethora of strikes that’s threatening to cripple the economy,” Masters said. In reality, he insisted, the number of workers hoisting picket signs is “minuscule” in comparison to even recent, pre-pandemic years.

Still, the Labor Action Tracker from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, which tallies any strike or protest in the US involving two or more workers, has counted 178 strikes so far this year, Bloomberg reports.

“We have been seeing an uptick in strikes in September and October, even compared to earlier months in 2021,” Johnnie Kallas, the Labor Action Tracker’s director, told Bloomberg.

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The work stoppages are occurring amid a widespread labor shortage and a dramatic shift in American attitudes toward work, as record numbers of employees leave their jobs.

“People may be more inclined to go out on strike in a labor market where there are labor shortages, which is what we see now, when there’s concerns about economic inequality,” Masters told HR Brew.

StriketobeHR

HR professionals do figure into the situation, particularly when it comes to ensuring compliance with labor laws (more on that here) and helping facilitate resolutions.

Procedurally, HR practitioners need to understand that “you want to make sure you don’t cross the boundary and threaten people…and try to keep those relations with strikers as positive as possible,” Masters said. “You have to bring the people back to work, and you don’t want to have a whole lot of bitter feelings lingering.”

It’s also important to remember that employees are legally entitled “to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” as explained in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

Masters also noted that although companies do have “the right to temporarily and permanently replace workers” during a strike, that doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes, both in regard to public opinion and the quality of work.—SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Sam Blum via the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram (@SamBlum_Brew) or simply email [email protected].

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.