• Home
  • >
  • Labor
  • With Strikes Mounting, Has Labor Reached an Inflection Point?

With Strikes Mounting, Has Labor Reached an Inflection Point?

If the recent spate of labor unrest and the massive wave of resignations are any indication, workers are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, to quote “Network” anchorman Howard Beale.

More than 100 million people – more than 38% of the working-age population – were not in the labor force in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this at a time when wages are growing at an impressive rate and employers are begging for workers, with some 10 million jobs going wanting.

The pandemic prompted many workers to rethink their priorities. Some 300,000 women alone have left the workforce, which is some 5 million workers below its level pre-pandemic. Elsewhere, strikes have roiled the likes of Deere and Kellogg’s, and union organizing efforts have swept companies like Amazon and Starbucks.

“I think we’ve really met a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment,” Harvard economics Professor Lawrence Katz said recently in an interview with the Harvard Gazette.


Human relations vice president Elisabeth Duncan of Evive told The Food Institute employers need to start viewing their work forces differently, realizing they have four generations working side by side, each with different needs. All are looking for shorter workweeks, but the cohorts rank other benefits differently. Consider:

  • Baby boomers want identity theft protection, flexible hours, financial planning and fitness perks.
  • Gen-Xers want flexible hours, fitness perks, student loan assistance and financial planning.
  • Millennials want flexible hours, fitness perks, student loan assistance and tuition reimbursement.
  • The youngest workers want student loan assistance, financial planning and an employee assistance program.

“In addition to money, workers (at all levels) are seeking considerably more flexibility and control over work schedules,” Bill Catlette, a partner at the consulting firm Contented Cow Partners, told The Food Institute.

“One of the more significant impacts is that, as pressure to fill vacant positions increases, the resolve of hiring managers to find well-qualified applicants melts away to the singular goal of ‘putting butts in seats.’ This further inflames incumbent workers who don’t like what’s happening in their work neighborhood.”


In Alabama, first-shift workers at a Wayne Farms poultry processing plant in Albertville, walked out ahead of a Dec. 1 vote on a proposed contract and then rejected the blueprint, Meat+Poultry reported. The workers, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers local 1995, are seeking higher pay – the company has offered $1.10 to $3, depending on the shift – and better treatment.

Meanwhile, the 2-month-old strike by 1,400 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union dragged on at four Kellogg’s plants, with the company making plans to hire permanent replacements, ABC reported (Dec. 6). The union, which is trying to leverage the tight labor market, wants to get rid of the two-tier wage scale – about 30% of the work force was hired under it.

Cargill averted a strike by employees represented by the UFCW at its southern Canada beef processing plant. The roughly 2,000 workers, who process about a third of Canada’s beef, won a $5 wage increase, $4,200 in retroactive pay, and bonuses for signing, holidays and COVID-19, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported (Dec. 4). Aside from economic issues, the union sought improvements in health and safety protocols. COVID temporarily forced the plant to close in 2020, and the outbreak was tied to three deaths.

“As organizations may struggle to attract new talent, it is imperative for employers to foster a sense of engagement and learning for their staff. This includes providing training and development and upskilling opportunities, job enrichment and strong internal communication,” Wisetail President Ali Knapp told The Food Institute.