Pay Your Workers: The Recent Labor Strikes in the US
Living during a pandemic has completely altered the way people view working and productivity. When the world slowed down, we were forced to reflect on many previous common practices including inequity for certain groups of people. Many workers were no longer satisfied with the compensation and treatment they were receiving, especially in a time where working could mean risking one’s life. This has now resulted in people standing up to unfair treatment and calling their employers out.
In September 2021, “420 workers at the Heaven Hill spirits bottling plant near Louisville went on strike” because “they were frustrated that the company’s proposed contract could reduce their overtime pay.” Many of them earned extra income working every day during the pandemic. According to Leslie Glazar, the recording secretary of the local union representing the workers, they received promises from the company in the midst of the pandemic such as, “You get us through that, we’ll make it worth your time.” Unfortunately, these promises were unfulfilled.
According to data from Cornell University, the number of workers on strike skyrocketed to more than 25,000 in October 2021, whereas there was an average of 10,000 prior. Workers had a variety of complaints including “that their employers have failed to share enormous pandemic-era profits, even as they sometimes risked their lives to make those earnings possible…[and that] when companies do offer raises, the increases are often limited.” This should not be the case considering the amount of money many companies have saved being remote in addition to greater profits. Obviously, workers’ needs are not being met and it honestly shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to figure this out because this has been an ongoing issue as a higher minimum wage among other rights for workers has been a big topic of discussion in recent years.
Personally, during the pandemic, I have held positions in which my coworkers and I were expected to work ourselves to the bone but reaped no benefits. We would be denied any breaks or compromises when the expectations of us exceeded what was agreed upon and instead were forced to risk our lives, and honestly our sanity, on a daily basis. Frequently we would find ourselves in circumstances in which one or two people were expected to do the work of 4 or 5 employees, no matter how long it took; unfortunately, management often showed us no empathy. So, I can relate to the complaints of many of these workers, and they are right, it is not fair.
In the midst of employee unrest, on November 3, 2021, a large strike took place when students workers at Columbia University took action against unfair compensation. Prior to the strike, several students paid a visit to the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, during his “Freedom of Speech and Press” class chanting, “Fuck You PrezBo” and “No contract, no work.” After this spectacle was met with no action, the student workers went on strike. Workers “are demanding a fair contract that includes a living wage, better healthcare, union recognition for all student workers, and protections from sexual harassment and power-based bullying.”
According to the Student Workers of Columbia’s website at the time this article was written, Columbia University has refused to move on any key issues and they are still on strike and the Student Workers of Columbia currently represents over 3,000 graduate and undergraduate student workers. Personally, I stand with Columbia’s student workers and am looking forward to seeing them fight and hopefully receive the rights they deserve. If you want more up-to-date information on the Student Workers of Columbia you can visit their website and their Twitter.
Featured Image Via Kathy Fang / Columbia Daily Spectator