by Havann Brown, editor-in-chief
NOVEMBER 2021 – All across the United States, tens of thousands of organized workers are on strike. Teachers, nurses, factory workers, and many more have joined this labor uprising stretching from Hollywood to Midwestern factories. Throughout October, the widespread movements led to the month being dubbed “Striketober” by various media outlets.
The first large-scale strike action was at the Kellogg’s company. At cereal plants in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Tennessee, and Nebraska, 1,400 workers have been on strike since Oct. 5. At John Deere, a large agriculture machinery manufacturer, more than 10,000 workers walked off the job for the first time in 35 years. According to a tracker by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, there have been strikes against 178 employers this year alone, and that amount is only expected to increase.
“Workers are striking for better wages, better working conditions, and more benefits,” said Mr. William Ullinger, the ninth-grade social studies teacher.
After a year and a half of a pandemic, a wave of worker angst has spread across industries. Senior Robert Greenwood remarked, “Businesses are putting profits over people. Corporations don’t care about their workers.” Employee demands vary among workplaces; however, stagnant wages and exploitation are noted as a primary concern of those on strike, according to NPR.
The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave. Additionally, there is no federal law requiring paid sick days, nor is there a law setting the maximum workweek length. Workers are citing feelings of being overworked and underpaid when striking, in hope of negotiating better conditions.
Ullinger continued, “A workforce is made up of human beings, and we have to respect them as such…. The amount of students that have told me that they feel overworked at their jobs is crazy. We shouldn’t have a generation of students already talking about being overworked when they’re only 16 or 17 years old.”
“Bosses are hiring high school students for as little as possible and pushing them to their limits. And it’s not like the bosses care about if you are getting your schoolwork done. They only care about their business staying open. People are looking for employees that they can pay the least while getting the most hours out of them,” he added.
As the next generation of workers, seniors Adam Lang and Via Gast shared their opinions on the strikes.
“I certainly do support the right to strike. It is very important for the workers to stand up for themselves and fight for what is right. This is why labor unions are put in place and are important,” said Lang.
Gast shared a similar sentiment: “Workers should exercise their rights in every single way possible. Through active collaboration and unionization, we’re able to make huge structural changes.”
According to a September Gallup poll, labor unions have a 68 percent approval rating among Americans, the highest approval since 1965. The union support coupled with the wave of strikes is fostering the conversation for improved conditions.
Ullinger does not predict a swift end to the strikes, “There has been a continuous struggle for workers rights, not only in America, but globally. I don’t honestly think it’s ever going to end because that’s just not the way the system’s played out. If the goal of a business is to make as much money as possible, sooner or later, someone’s going to be underpaid for their labor. So it’s an ongoing issue. There’s a reason why the fight for worker’s rights just goes on and on.”
Looking to the future, Gast said, “If things don’t change when our time comes around, I hope that we can better advocate for our rights and unionize, if necessary. I don’t know if the strikes will resolve anything, but at the very least, I hope they give us an avenue to a better discussion on worker’s rights.”
Kristin Williams, Executive Director of Career Exploration and Development at Kent State University, did not respond to The Hive’s request for an interview.