The last few months have seen a surge in labor organizing and stoppages, which have idled assembly lines in the heartland and shuttered productions in Hollywood.
The high-profile contract fights have played out across the country, just as public opinion has been turning more in favor of organized labor. According to a poll conducted by Gallup in August, 67 percent of Americans approved of labor unions, up from 48 percent in 2009, the lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1936.
Despite some notable gains for unions in recent years — including successful efforts to organize workers at more than 300 Starbucks locations and Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse — union membership remains low by historical standards. The share of Americans who belonged to a union in 2022 was 10.1 percent, the lowest figure on record, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here’s what to know about several notable labor disputes from recent months:
The Hollywood Strikes
More than 11,000 movie and television writers went on strike on May 1, walking out right before their three-year contract expired. Among the screenwriters’ core demands were an increase in a type of royalty payment knows as residuals, for which they cited stagnant growth in compensation for writers even as television expanded rapidly in the streaming era, and employment protections against the growing use of artificial intelligence.
The Writers Guild of America, which represents the striking screenwriters, reached a tentative deal for a new contract with Hollywood companies on Sunday night, marking the likely end of the work stoppage.
But most shows and productions are likely to remain sidelined for even longer, as Hollywood actors have been on strike since July 14. The actors are also at odds with entertainment companies over compensation and the use of A.I., and they’ve called for a 2 percent share of the total revenue earned by streaming shows. The union representing the actors, SAG-AFTRA, currently has no talks scheduled with the studios.
The union representing more than 325,000 UPS workers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, spent months negotiating a new contract with the company. The workers’ key demands included better pay for part-time workers, whom the company relies on heavily during busy periods, and improved heat safety.
In making its demands, the union cited the company’s strong growth since before the pandemic: UPS’s adjusted net income grew more than 70 percent from 2019 to 2022.
The union and UPS reached a tentative deal on July 25, and then workers approved a new five-year contract on Aug. 22 with 86 percent support, averting a shutdown that would have sent ripples throughout the American economy.
The terms of the new deal included an increase in the minimum pay for part-time workers, to $21 an hour from less than $17; requirements for air-conditioning in new delivery trucks; and a growth in compensation for full-time delivery drivers, to $49 an hour after four full years of service from $42.
Thousands of members of the United Auto Workers union went on strike against three large U.S. automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — at three plants after the workers’ four-year contract expired at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 14. The work stoppage has grown in scope since, with the union expanding its strike to include spare-parts distribution centers for G.M. and Stellantis.
Led by its new president, Shawn Fain, the union has taken a more aggressive approach to negotiations, calling for a 40 percent increase in compensation for workers over the course of the new four-year contract, the improvement of retiree medical coverage and pensions, and the end to a system that pays newer workers much less than more veteran ones.
Like the Teamsters, the U.A.W. has pointed to growth in profits and chief executive compensation in making its demands for improved compensation for its members.