US workers are striking, from Kaiser to John Deere and Kellogg’s. What’s empowering them?

The Michigan American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) hosts a rally outside Kellogg's world headquarters on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 to support workers on strike in Battle Creek, Michigan. Photo credit: Alyssa Keown | Battle Creek Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

More than 30,000 Kaiser Permanente workers along the West Coast are expected to walk off the job on November 15, citing staffing and safety concerns. Meanwhile, 10,000 John Deere employees have been on strike for weeks, and on November 2, they rejected the company’s latest offer of a 10% pay bump and a bonus for ratifying a contract. Kellogg’s workers have been striking for the past month, and negotiations have stalled. Hollywood was nearly upended last month when the production workers’ union, IATSE, averted a strike at the 11th hour. Organized labor is having a moment, as #striketober was trending last month. 

“There's kind of this sense among workers across the United States that they're newly empowered, because of the labor shortage, that they're owed big time because they worked so heroically during the pandemic. … They're also encouraged that, ‘Hey, we have President Joe Biden, who is clearly the most pro-worker, pro-union president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s,’” says Steven Greenhouse, labor reporter and author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.” 

He adds that workers are encouraged by seeing other successful strikes recently, and public approval of labor unions is the highest it’s been in nearly 60 years, according to a recent Gallup poll. 

“Unions are kind of feeling their oats. Workers feel empowered. They’re encouraged. They’re emboldened. And I think that’s a big reason why we’re seeing all these strikes,” he says.

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