Nearly a quarter of a million American workers went on strike in 2022, with Starbucks employees and fast-food workers leading the charge, according to a report released on Tuesday by Cornell University’s Worker Institute. It found that work stoppages have increased by more than 50 percent in the past year.
The Institute’s Labor Action Tracker Annual Report, which features a comprehensive list of confirmed strikes, lockouts, and labor protests from across the nation, found that the food services industry experienced more work stoppages than any other sector in 2022.
Baristas, cashiers, cooks and servers were involved in at least 144 strikes and lockouts, a third of the work stoppages that the report documented. The overwhelming majority of those work stoppages were led by organizers from Starbucks Workers United campaign and the Fight for $15, two national labor movements that have made significant gains in the past few years. More than 278 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since 2021, and the Fight for $15 campaign has gained political traction in state legislatures, most recently in California.
While fast-food and service workers were particularly active last year, they were far from the only food industry workers to protest, walk off the job, or go on strike. The report documents four confirmed work stoppages led by farmworkers, including two strikes in the strawberry fields of Santa Maria, California. In May 2022, at least 100 strawberry pickers walked off the job at J & G Berry Farms and demanded their employer pay them $3.50 for every box of strawberries they picked, which amounted to a 66 percent raise. J & G Berry Farms offered to pay its employees $2.20 per box instead, a 4 percent raise that workers say they agreed to because they could not afford to miss another day of work.
Hundreds of food transportation workers also organized work stoppages. The report found that employees at Sysco, one of the largest food distribution companies in the world, went on strike at least five times last year. In April 2022, more than 200 of the company’s drivers refused to make food deliveries to regular customers in the Washington-D.C.-Metropolitan Area, which included the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
Unions are experiencing a national rise in popularity, and the report’s authors found that the number of workers involved in strikes has increased by 60 percent since 2021. However, they also found that this flurry of work stoppages pales in comparison to previous eras, such as the 1970s. “More research is needed to make meaningful historical comparisons that account for the immense challenges facing striking workers and the labor movement more broadly,” the report notes.