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The “hot labor summer” of 2023: what you need to know


Photo by Chris Long via Unsplash

What do writers, nurses, teachers, and a slew of other jobs have in common? They were all on strike for at least some of this past year or so. In what’s been described as a “hot labor summer”, workers in the United States have made massive gains—and been met with massive opposition—in terms of improving pay, working conditions, and fighting the ever-increasing disparity between the wealthy and the working class.


Much of it is centered here in Los Angeles. Everyone knows about the writers and actors, but we’ve also experienced strikes from a slew of other unions: hotel workers and city workers are among those on strike here right now, and we all remember the school employees who went on strike earlier in the year. Of course, there’s plenty of labor action outside of Los Angeles; the teamsters narrowly avoided a massive strike by negotiating with UPS, and United Auto Workers are striking against all of the big three auto companies all at once, which marks the first time this has been done.


Naturally, the companies that hold all the power and money are doing everything they can to preserve it: for example, Chipotle closed down one of their locations after workers there tried to unionize. Starbucks frequently fires employees who express pro-union sentiment. Many of these practices are blatantly illegal: the National Labor Relations board has brought a hundred different cases against Starbucks, and Chipotle was forced to pay a settlement to employees of the closed store.


It can often seem as if those at the top are immensely out of touch with what’s reasonable for their workers. Often they’ll claim that higher wages just aren’t possible financially, when this is usually blatantly untrue. For example, the UAW is asking for a 40% raise over the next four years, and this number is based on the fact that CEO pay rose by about the same amount in the previous four years. There is definitely enough room to meet the workers’ financial requests, especially given that the big three spent 5 billion dollars in stock buybacks in the past year. Other CEOs are just straight-up evil: an AMPTP (the organization that writers and actors are striking against) executive was quoted as saying that “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”


Union activity in the US has been on decline for about seventy years: in the 50s, one-third of the workforce was in a union but by 2022, it was down to 14%. A graph from the U.S. Department of the Treasury shows a direct correlation between this drop in activity and an increase in the income share of the top 1%. Many working class jobs are just not as financially viable as they were in the past (trucking, for example, used to be one of the most coveted blue-collar jobs in America, and now they make little more than minimum wage).


If people see the impact that unions can have on the well-being of people and the economy, union activity may finally start to turn around. At a time when the wealthiest people in the country are making an unprecedented level of profits, it’s imperative that we create a society where you don’t need to be a CEO to live comfortably. Simply put, those who work to help earn those unprecedented profits should get their fair share.


If you want to stay updated on labor-related news, there are a few sources which I follow which inspired me to write about this in the first place. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has a channel on YouTube where he breaks down things like income inequality, union-busting tactics, and general labor news, and the organization More Perfect Union produces content about similar themes; they upload videos to YouTube as well.

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