It only looks at recent headlines to see that employees across various industries participated in “Striketober.” That is the popularized term referring to the fact that so many workers across the construction industry went on strike in October. While construction strikes haven’t been at the forefront of the Striketober headlines, the construction industry has still seen the effects.
A General Trend Toward Striketober
The last year, especially the last few months, have seen a sharp rise in worker strikes, leading to the title Striketober. The U.S. Department of Labor reports 57,800 workers on strike in the year’s first nine months. That is more than the number of workers on strike annually in half of the last ten years.
The most prominent complaints leading to the strikes are inequality and lack of compensation—those on strike protest making their company’s owners billions while making pennies themselves.
Experts say that the pandemic also plays a powerful role. This is especially the case for essential workers, who put their lives at risk for low wages and saw no financial benefits for doing so. Most companies turned around and tried to cut the salaries of “essential” workers.
Strikes in the Construction Industry
One example of a strike in the construction industry was among union carpenters in Seattle. Two thousand carpenters participated in search of improved wages and benefits, along with parking allowances. After three weeks, workers accepted the fifth deal the Associated General Contractors of Washington State offered, but by a slim margin of just 54 percent to 46 percent.
Experts also predict that more strikes are likely in the industry. Management-side labor attorney Charles Krugel told Construction Dive that strikes are possible due to the uncertainty in the industry. He specifically highlighted the labor shortages and material shortages. As he explained, labor unions have an advantage over general contractors because of the uncertainty.
Other experts say that vaccine hesitancy also plays a role in the likely rise of strikes.
But not everyone agrees that the construction industry will see more strikes now that Striketober passed. Mark Erlich, for example, is the former New England Regional Council of Carpenters executive secretary-treasurer and a current fellow at Harvard.
He also talked to Construction Dive, but he doesn’t expect a significant rise in strikes. While there may be some, he says that COVID wasn’t as disruptive to the industry makes strikes less likely than in other sectors. While there are some effects of COVID on the construction industry, he points out that it was “pretty much back, almost without a hitch” by last fall.
The Hiring Gap
There is already a skilled labor shortage in the construction industry, and with the growing demands for higher pay and benefits, this issue may worsen. Striketober indeed highlighted that workers want higher wages.
Construction unions have not shared whether they have plans for more strikes. That being said, strikes in other industries may be effective enough to show construction companies the priorities of their workers.
Contractor groups also hope that unions use the strikes as a chance to focus on the long-term impacts on workers, including their economic prospects.
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