There Once Was a Union Maid…

It didn’t deprive consumers of the basic necessities of life, unless you put sitcoms and late-night talk shows in that category. But the Hollywood writers’ strike, now settled, at least reminded Americans en masse that work stoppages are (or can be) part of the economic landscape. Given the comparative labor peace of recent years, this may well have been forgotten.

A fresh report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says last year saw 21 major work stoppages (i.e., strikes or lockouts involving at least 1,000 workers), idling 189,000 workers for a total of 1.3 million workdays.

If that sounds like a lot, it isn’t in historical terms. The average number of worker days lost to stoppages was nearly four times as high in the 1990s and more than 20 times as high as recently as the 1970s. The steep decline in number and scale of work stoppages parallels the shrinkage of labor unions in the U.S., especially as a force in private-sector employment.