Editorial staff | Workers take back their power
A series of strikes and resignations across the country this year shows that workers have more bargaining power than they might think.
The phenomena known as the October strike and the great resignation show that workers finally have the opportunity to demand fair wages and appropriate treatment from their employers.
Workers at several John Deere plants in eastern Iowa resigned two weeks ago after rejecting a deal negotiated by their United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The agreement negotiated by the UAW ensured that workers’ wages would rise by 5 to 6 percent in 2022 and by 3 percent in 2023 and 2025.
In the past fiscal quarter, however, John Deere grossed a record $ 1.79 billion. The manufacturer is expected to bring in nearly $ 6 billion in fiscal 2021. As of 2020, the CEO of John Deere saw his compensation package increase by an absurd 160 percent. In short, the workers are not getting their fair share.
John Deere has a reputation for mistreating its workers. The reasons for the picket lines were cited by many workers because of mistreatment by their superiors and long working hours in connection with the above-mentioned wage gap.
The UAW strike is just a microcosm of what’s happening in the labor market.
Kellogg’s workers across the country also went on strike that month; Kaiser Permanente workers in Georgia approved a strike Monday. And the union that represents members of the Hollywood film crew is on the sidelines as members want to vote on a tentative contractual agreement.
But the phenomenon is bigger than just unions – millions of workers across the country are quitting their jobs because they are tired of being underserved by their employers. Since former President Ronald Reagan’s tenure, the upper echelons who run billion dollar companies have skyrocketed their personal wealth.
On the other hand, the protection that workers once enjoyed from unions in the private sector has dramatically diminished as unions have weakened.
In Iowa, the number of unionized workers fell from 19 percent in 1989 to less than 10 percent in 2020. As a result, most workers are not treated on an equal footing with their employer when negotiating a contract. This has led to stagnation in wages and a decline in labor productivity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned this paradigm on its head. Instead of going on strike like the John Deere picket lines, millions of workers have simply quit their jobs to force companies to raise their wages. Even before the latest strike, John Deere was struggling to hire new workers.
From an economic perspective, individual workers collectively influence the labor supply in the United States. Getting workers well paid and providing generous benefits is in the best interests of businesses trying to hire and retain workers. However, these strikes, along with the pandemic, create the possibility of another major resignation. Workers are burned out; Almost three quarters of employees feel left behind from their work.
In other words, Americans work too much for too little. Anthropologists have argued that before the Agrarian Revolution nearly 12,000 years ago, people in hunter-gatherer societies spent more time recreational than modern American workers.
It shouldn’t be the case that a prehistoric man lived in harsh conditions, in danger around every corner was better rested than the 21st century worker.
As a result, many developed nations have begun experimenting with four-day workweek so that professionals can spend more time recovering from burnout and building relationships with their families. Initial results have shown that as workers spend fewer hours working, their productivity and mental wellbeing increase significantly, resulting in a better-equipped and happier workforce.
Because of worker burnout and the experiences of other developed nations with shorter work weeks, many Americans are rethinking work-life balance and the importance of work.
It took a pandemic to devastate the very fabric of American society for workers to finally have some influence over their employers. That being said, workers are facing a deadlocked system that must be reformed before they can really get the protection and wages they deserve. The UAW strikes, along with the Great Resignation, are important first steps on this path to reform.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the editor, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.
Members of the Editorial Committee are Caleb McCullough, Rylee Wilson, Josie Fischels, Hannah Pinski, Shahab Khan and Sophie Stover