This week’s New York Times front-page story on lockouts used Bloomberg BNA’s labor data to make its point—that, more than ever, employers are locking out workers to put pressure on unions during contract negotiations. I crunched the numbers for the reporter in this story, and I must say I was surprised to find that employers were much more likely to lock out workers in 2011 than in any other year since we started keeping track of work stoppages two decades ago.
There have been years that have seen more lockouts than the 17 that were reported to us in 2011. In 1990, our first year recording the data, there were a whopping 37 lockouts. But, as the Times story notes, that was in a time when labor unrest was much more prevalent than it is today. There were a startling 834 work stoppages in 1990 alone. Suddenly, those 37 lockouts don’t look too impressive; they accounted for only 4.4 percent of the yearly work stoppages total. The number of strikes organized by unions has fallen dramatically since then—but the number of lockouts, meanwhile, has stayed relatively constant. There were only 151 work stoppages last year, which means that the 17 lockouts accounted for 11.3 percent of them. It’s the first year on record where as many as one in 10 stoppages were initiated by the employer, not the employees.
A look at the totals by decade provides the clearest look at this trend.
After the much-publicized NFL lockout, which affected some 2,000 players in all, the largest lockout in 2011 involved American Crystal Sugar Co., a Moorhead, Minn.-based manufacturer that locked out approximately 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union in three states on Aug. 1. The lockout is still ongoing.
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