On November 1, 2023 the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) formally began their strike, the first teachers’ strike in the history of Oregon’s largest school district, Portland Public Schools. Earlier in 2023, nearly 30,000 public school employees went on a three-day strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In both instances, common issues were cited for the work stoppage. The contract negotiations for both unions centered on things like working conditions, expanded resources for students, and educator compensation.
Educators are not alone in their move to use their collective power to restructure their employment contracts. The summer of 2023 had been deemed by some as “hot labor summer”, a reference to the wide-spread labor activity happening throughout the United States. Both actors and screenwriters went on strike in 2023. Other not-so high profile sectors also saw strikes, including hotel workers, UPS Teamsters, and Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers. Possibly most notably, the United Auto Workers (UAW) saw many of its members go on strike at the “big 3” automobile manufacturers, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis. As of early November, 2023 a tentative agreement was made between the UAW and car companies, which could have UAW members see wage increases, job security, profit-sharing and lost wage payments for certain autoworkers.
The years from 2020 to 2023 witnessed a resurgence of labor union popularity, with Americans’ approval rating of Labor Unions jumping from less than 50% in the 2010’s to over 70% in 2022. This rise in popularity and unionization efforts in the United States may be driven by a renewed focus on workers’ rights, economic disparities, and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, labor unions made significant gains through successful organizing campaigns and policy advocacy. As the U.S. and global economies evolve in light of new technologies and landscapes, it looks like organized labor will begin to have a larger role in how economic gains are shared.
This week’s Current Events resources explore the wave of labor disputes and union strikes taking place across the country, as well as the history around labor disputes since the American Industrial Age. The resources shared provide information, history, and context to union strikes and the ongoing push and pull between organized labor and corporations. For additional information, see a previous CLP Current Event post on strikes.
Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:
- What is the historical relationship between labor and corporations in the United States?
- How does collective action, like strikes, impact American life?
- What is the National Labor Relations Board and what kind of impacts has it had on labor in the United States?
- Historically, what role has the government played in labor disputes?
- In your opinion, what role should the government play in modern day labor disputes?
- What is the historical and ongoing relationship between unions and Labor Day?
Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions & Labor Relations Vocabulary
Click here for a hardcopy of the Current Event Extension activities handout with suggested lesson activities and extensions
The Strike that Changed U.S. Labor, The Indicator from Planet Money, NPR, December 23, 2019
Workers Win Big as UAW Strike Nears End, The Journal, The Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2023
Exploring the labor movement’s recent successes, Detroit Today, NPR, October 4, 2023
The Historic Battles of “Hot Labor Summer”, The Political Scene Podcast, The New Yorker, July 27, 2023
The Right to Strike, The National Labor Relations Board
Going on Strike: Labor FAQ, LawInfo
Labor Wars in the U.S., PBS
Labor Unions and the U.S. Economy, United States Department of Treasury
Portland teachers begin 1st strike in PPS history; District says more state funds needed, Fox 12 Oregon, November 1, 2023
Autoworkers strike is over as union and GM reach potential deal, NBC News, October 30, 2023
Labor movements are seeing historic victories this year. Can unions keep up the momentum? PBS Newshour, October 11, 2023
UAW strike the latest to spotlight the power of US labor. What is the state of unions today?, CBS News Detroit, November 1, 2023
Here’s why the US labor movement is so popular but union membership is dwindling, USA Today, September 7, 2023
Oregon sees record-high unionization, OPB, October 7, 2023
More in U.S. See Unions Strengthening and Want It That Way, Gallup, August 30, 2023
Portland Association of Teachers: Ready to strike for our schools and students (Opinion), The Oregonian, October 23, 2023
Portland Public Schools: Stretching school dollars for a multitude of needs (Opinion), The Oregonian, October 23, 2023
U.A.W. Strike Gains Could Reverberate Far Beyond Autos, New York Times, October 31, 2023
Editorial: Don’t give unemployment checks to striking workers, The Mercury, September 20, 2023
Lesson plan: Labor Day and unions today, PBS Newshour Extra
Labor Matters, Learning For Justice
Labor Unions and Working Conditions: United We Stand, Library of Congress
Homestead Strike, Stanford History Education Group
Lesson plan: Role of labor unions today and in the past, PBS Newshour Classroom
Teaching about Labor Rights History, Facing History & Ourselves
Resources for Younger Students:
Have We Forgotten the True Meaning of Labor Day?, Actively Learn
The History of Labor Day, Newsela