Seyfarth Synopsis: As the BLS reported more strikes in 2019, employers going into bargaining in 2020 should really consider preparing for the possibility of a work stoppage.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its annual report of “major work stoppages” in 2019 and the data shows there were 25 “large strikes” in 2019 involving approximately 425,000 workers. This total is up from 20 in 2018, although the number of workers involved in 2019 decreased from 485,000 in 2018 to 425,000 in 2019. For a large strike to be reported by BLS, it must involve over 1,000 workers who are off work for at least one entire shift, either in the public or private sector. The 2018/19 two year average is the highest in about 35 years.

Several items reported by other sources should cause more concern for unionized employers, especially those with contracts expiring in 2020. First, Bloomberg reports that almost 90 percent of work stoppages occur in workplaces with fewer than 1,000, and the number of work stoppages in 2019 was almost as high as 2018 (which had the highest level since 2012). Second, the Economic Policy Institute suggests that the large number of strikes – despite a general decrease in the number of unionized workers to the lowest level since BLS started tracking the statistic in 1983 to about 10.2 percent of the US workforce – is in part because employees are not as afraid for their jobs because of low unemployment rates.

A key takeaway for an employer going into bargaining in 2020 is that it is more important than ever to prepare for the possibility of a work stoppage as part of overall bargaining preparation. Do not rely on wishful thinking that ‘our workers will never strike’ but instead apply that old adage “hope for the best but prepare for the worst”. These efforts should involve a plan for operations in the event of a strike, facility, security and logistics assessments, public relations and communications plans, and early identification of your internal (and external) team.