2023 had the most recorded strikes in decades

In 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 33 major work stoppages — the most recorded since 2000, when there were 39. 

BLS defines a major work stoppage, also known as a strike, as an event that involves 1,000 or more workers and lasts at least one shift during the workweek.

Of the 458,900 workers involved in strikes during the year, 86.7% were in service-providing industries, including education, health services and the information sector, while 13.3% were in the manufacturing sector.

2023 was a big year for strike headlines, led in part by the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild strikes as well as the United Auto Workers strikes. According to BLS, the UAW strikes led to 869,200 days worth of cumulative idleness — work days missed multiplied by workers idled. The SAG-AFTRA strikes accounted for more than 13 million days worth of cumulative idleness.

BLS’s data captures larger worker movements, including those by various hospitals and healthcare firms, such as the historic Kaiser Permanente strikes. What it does not capture are smaller pockets of work stoppages, such as movements by Starbucks Workers United, which staged strike actions throughout 2023 and captured a number of headlines.

The National Labor Relations Board also had a busy 2023 as it sought to expand and clarify rules around unionization. In the last weeks of August alone, NLRB widened the definition of protected activity, clarified the legal standard for “anti-union animus,” and established a path for unions to represent workers without elections.

2023’s strikes also serve as an example of how employee power is growing and shifting, Forrester analysts said in October

“Leaders should keep an eye on strikes but should focus their actions on a broader employee power framework,” J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, wrote in a company blog post. “Employee power in all its forms provides you with a valuable signal. It tells you that there’s misalignment between management and employees on key issues.”