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“Designated duration” strikes, such as the three-day walkout of 15,000 nurses in mid-September, protect workers’ interests and impose financial and reputational losses on employers, suggesting that confrontational tactics can help unions resist increasing employer power, according to a new Cornell study. Research School of ILR University.

“Retooling Militance: Labor Revitalization and Fixed-Duration Strikes,” published September 8 in British Journal of Industrial Relationsauthored by doctoral student Johnny Kalas, traces the rise of militant leadership in the California Nurses Association in the mid-1990s and its strategic adaptation to the strike.

Kalas studied 10 fixed-term strikes by California nurses between 2011 and 2015. Most of the strikes lasted one day. Three dozen interviews and other research led Kalas, who was an organizer for the union from 2016 to 2017, to determine that militant leadership and workers led to the adoption of the fixed-length strike.

The fixed-term strikes by thousands of nurses created a more militant membership and organization, developing a vision for social justice while resisting nearly 100 concessions offered at the bargaining table and laying the groundwork for bigger wage increases in subsequent contracts, he said.

The fixed-term strike “is a critical component of labor revitalization and the union’s strategy to confront both individual hospital employers and the broader private health care system in the United States,” he wrote.

USA unions and labor organizations representing teachers, fast-food workers and others retooled the strike to counter the growing the employer power and revitalization of the labor movement, Kalas said. He is director of the ILR Labor Action Tracker, which recorded 545 labor actions in 803 US locations between January 1st and September 29th. Although there has been a sharp increase in the number of work stoppages over the past four years, the number of strikes in the US has fallen sharply since the 1980s.

Fixed-duration strikes, Kalas wrote, create economic and reputational losses for employers. For example, hospitals affected by nurses’ strikes could not close; they were forced to employ expensively paid temporary nurses. Union nurses did not abandon patients; they went back to work afterwards a strike.

The downside of fixed-duration strikes is that they may not force a settlement, Kalas said, but they can be a very effective tool for “protecting economic interests nurses and enhance their role as advocates for patient care, while imposing financial and reputational costs on employers.”

Unions fight to secure better pay and conditions for workers, but they can also benefit employers

Additional information:
John Callas, Retooling Militancy: The Resurgence of Fixed-duration Labor and the Strike, British Journal of Industrial Relations (2022). DOI: 10.1111/bjir.12709

Citation: Fixed-Duration Strikes May Revitalize Labor (2022, October 5) Retrieved October 5, 2022, from

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