Two Tales of Labor Strife with Strikingly Different Tones

  • April 16, 2016

Work Stoppages Aren’t All Alikeidrive

Earlier this week I was reading the SHRM Daily newsletter in my email and ran across to stories with the same topic, but very different themes and story angles.  The stories focused on a pair of work stoppages; one at Verizon and the second being the latest Fight for $15 rallies held nationwide on April 14th.

Here’s the headline and summary from SHRM covering the Verizon strike in which 36,000 union employees went on strike over an ability to reach a new labor agreement with their employer.

Verizon Strike Not as Intimidating as It Appears
Despite its recent strike at Verizon, which started April 13, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) doesn’t have as much muscle to flex as it did 16 years ago.

In 2000, 85,000 Verizon employees went on strike. In the ensuing decade, the union lost half its membership. Now about 40,000 Verizon employees are striking, noted Peter List, CEO of Kulture, a national labor-employment consultancy based in the Charleston, S.C., area.

The gist of the story is that the number of CWA members striking this time is about half what it was during the last strike, which means that the union has less leverage in this work stoppage than the last strike which took place 16 years ago. It also means that the work stoppage is less of a problem for Verizon this time around.

Juxtaposed with that is the second story headline describing the Fight for $15 one-day “strike” held on 4/14/2016.  That headline was:

Fight for $15 Rallies Leave a Lasting Impression

Fight for $15 rallies, such as the ones held globally April 14, aren’t just photo opportunities. Numerous states and localities have increased their minimum wage to $15 an hour since the rallies began three and a half years ago. And some companies—including Aetna, Nationwide Mutual Insurance and Facebook—have voluntarily raised their minimum pay to $15, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in an April 2016 report.

“These Fight for $15 rallies are growing and having some impact,” said Phillip Wilson, president and general counsel with the Labor Relations Institute, a full-service labor and employee relations consulting firm based in Broken Arrow, Okla. “Many municipalities are passing higher minimum wage laws, at least in part based on these protest activities.”

The Fight for $15 protesters  don’t belong to any kind of official union.  It’s a labor organization  that claims to be a grassroots movement, even though government documents show that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has funded their activities with nearly $70 million in the past few years.  It’s an interesting reflection of the current state of labor relations in the United States when a workers center with no dues paying members is viewed to be more effective than a long time traditional labor union like CWA.