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Tens of thousands of American workers on strike while labor market shifts

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 6:04 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thousands of workers are striking across the county. In Memphis on Friday, union workers at the Kellogg’s plant were on day 10 of their strike after contract negotiations failed with the company.

Economists explained with low unemployment but millions of jobs still open, the labor market has shifted to the power of the worker.

“It’s absolutely a good time for workers to strike,” 901 Economics President John Gnuschke said.

Gnuschke said with an unemployment rate falling, now at 4.8 percent, and 10,000,000 jobs still open employers don’t have as much power in filling those jobs as they once had.

“Partly because the labor market is really tight and a tight labor market where employers would find it difficult to replace the union workers, they have more power to negotiate change,” he said.

According to the Cornell University Labor Action tracker, since October 1 there have been 36 strikes across the country.

A Washington D.C. thinktank Economic Policy Institute found labor strikes increased in 2018 and 2019 then fell in 2020, mainly due to so many labor stoppages during the early months of the pandemic.

The Memphis Kellogg workers are part of more than 1,400 Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union striking at four plants.

While Kellogg workers are close to two weeks of striking, this week the nation’s largest private sector strike in two years started at the county’s John Deere factories. More than 10,000 workers at those facilities are striking for better wages.

“I think it’s a sign America, working people are waking up,” Kevin Bradshaw Vice President of 252g BCTGM said.

Bradshaw said he’s been in contact with strikers at John Deere. Kellogg workers are striking a two tier pay system.

“We’re still waiting to hear from the company,” Bradshaw said. “They’ve released statements saying they’re adamant about trying to get back to the table and negotiate in good faith but we have yet to hear from them.”

While Gnuschke said he’s not expecting to see an increase in strikes in Memphis, as most of the strikes are union driven, what employers choose to do to keep and attract staff could eventually help workers in all industries.

“[Employers are] having to be more aggressive with fringe benefits and pay. That impacts all of Memphis,” Gnuschke said.

Kellogg Company says it’s committed to achieving a fair and competitive contract..

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