Why This Counts: What Do We Know about Strikes and Lockouts?

Strikes and lockouts? Aren’t those 1940s-50s-60s economic activities? Sounds like we are taking a trip to the distant past with Sherman and Mr. Peabody in the WABAC machine. (For you younger readers, these characters can be found in the Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, a TV show from the early 1960s.) BLS first collected data on labor and management disputes (work stoppages) in the 1880s. BLS has continuously published work stoppage information since 1947, for events covering at least 1,000 workers. Recently, high profile work stoppages by public school teachers and others have kept these types of activities in the news.

What are work stoppages?

The work stoppages program provides monthly and annual data on major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting one full shift or longer. For this report, BLS does not differentiate between strikes and lockouts.

  • Strikes are a temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees to express a grievance, enforce a demand, or protest the terms, conditions, or provisions of a contract.
  • Lockouts are a temporary denial of employment by management.

Detailed monthly reports from 1993 to the present provide the organizations and unions involved, along with the locations, industries, number of workers directly involved, and days of idleness.

Who uses these data?

Work stoppages provide media, researchers, labor relations specialists, unions, and government agencies with information about labor-management disputes. While the work stoppages program does not report on the nature of the dispute, identifying the details of parties involved helps users assess the impact of compensation trends, union membership and activity, and legislation.

Has work stoppage activity changed over time?

Since BLS began reporting on work stoppages, declines in union membership, the growth of the service industry, technological changes, and other factors have led to a significant reduction in the number of work stoppages. Between 1947 and 1956, there were 3,438 work stoppages. In the decade from 2007 to 2016, there were 143 stoppages. In 2017, there were 7 work stoppages, and in 2018 there were 20.

Number of work stoppages by decade

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Decreases in the number of work stoppages and the number of workers involved are especially noticeable during recessions. These levels reached an all-time low at the end of the 2007–09 recession. In 1952, there were 2,746,000 workers involved in work stoppages, whereas in 2018 there were 485,000 workers involved.

Number of workers involved in major work stoppages, 1947–2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Another way to evaluate the impact of work stoppages on the national economy is by looking at the number of days workers are away from work because of strikes or lockouts. The number of days of idleness reached a peak in 1959, at about 60,850,000 days. The second largest number was in 1970, with 52,761,000 of days of idleness. In 2018, there were 2,815,400 days of idleness. Number of days idle from work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Where are work stoppages most prevalent?

Of the 559 major work stoppages between 1993 and 2018, 423 occurred in private industry, 95 in local government, 40 in state government, and 1 in both state and local government. Most stoppages during that period, 458, occurred within individual states, while 101 occurred in two or more states. California, the state with the largest share of national employment (13.6 percent), had the largest share of work stoppages, 24.2 percent. Texas, which accounts for 9.6 percent of national employment, accounted for 2.9 percent of all work stoppages (excluding interstate and nationally reported stoppages).

Share of national employment and share of major work stoppages by state, 1993–2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

These data also allow users to evaluate differences in the number of work stoppages by industry. From 1993 to 2018, there were almost as many stoppages in manufacturing (158) as the next two industries combined. Health care and social assistance had 83 work stoppages, while educational services had 79 work stoppages. Of the 79 educational services stoppages, 75 were in state and local government, with 50 occurring in local government and 25 in state government.Number of major work stoppages by industry, 1993–2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Want to know more?

We hope this discussion of work stoppages and a look to the past was almost as good as using the WABAC machine!

Number of work stoppages by decade
Decade Number
1947–1956 3,438
1957– 1966 2,500
1967–1976 3,321
1977–1986 1,446
1987–1996 404
1997–2006 240
2007–2016 140
Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018
Year Number of work stoppages Number of workers involved Number of days idle
1947 270 1,629,000 25,720,000
1948 245 1,435,000 26,127,000
1949 262 2,537,000 43,420,000
1950 424 1,698,000 30,390,000
1951 415 1,462,000 15,070,000
1952 470 2,746,000 48,820,000
1953 437 1,623,000 18,130,000
1954 265 1,075,000 16,630,000
1955 363 2,055,000 21,180,000
1956 287 1,370,000 26,840,000
1957 279 887,000 10,340,000
1958 332 1,587,000 17,900,000
1959 245 1,381,000 60,850,000
1960 222 896,000 13,260,000
1961 195 1,031,000 10,140,000
1962 211 793,000 11,760,000
1963 181 512,000 10,020,000
1964 246 1,183,000 16,220,000
1965 268 999,000 15,140,000
1966 321 1,300,000 16,000,000
1967 381 2,192,000 31,320,000
1968 392 1,855,000 35,367,000
1969 412 1,576,000 29,397,000
1970 381 2,468,000 52,761,000
1971 298 2,516,000 35,538,000
1972 250 975,000 16,764,000
1973 317 1,400,000 16,260,000
1974 424 1,796,000 31,809,000
1975 235 965,000 17,563,000
1976 231 1,519,000 23,962,000
1977 298 1,212,000 21,258,000
1978 219 1,006,000 23,774,000
1979 235 1,021,000 20,409,000
1980 187 795,000 20,844,000
1981 145 729,000 16,908,000
1982 96 656,000 9,061,000
1983 81 909,000 17,461,000
1984 62 376,000 8,499,000
1985 54 324,000 7,079,000
1986 69 533,000 11,861,000
1987 46 174,000 4,481,000
1988 40 118,000 4,381,000
1989 51 452,000 16,996,000
1990 44 185,000 5,926,000
1991 40 392,000 4,584,000
1992 35 364,000 3,989,000
1993 35 182,000 3,981,000
1994 45 322,000 5,021,000
1995 31 192,000 5,771,000
1996 37 273,000 4,889,000
1997 29 339,000 4,497,000
1998 34 387,000 5,116,000
1999 17 73,000 1,996,000
2000 39 394,000 20,419,000
2001 29 99,000 1,151,000
2002 19 46,000 659,600
2003 14 129,200 4,091,200
2004 17 170,700 3,344,100
2005 22 99,600 1,736,100
2006 20 70,100 2,687,500
2007 21 189,200 1,264,800
2008 15 72,200 1,954,100
2009 5 12,500 124,100
2010 11 44,500 302,300
2011 19 112,500 1,020,200
2012 19 148,100 1,130,800
2013 15 54,500 289,900
2014 11 34,300 200,200
2015 12 47,300 740,000
2016 15 99,400 1,543,400
2017 7 25,300 439,800
2018 20 485,200 2,815,400
Share of national employment and share of major work stoppages by state, 1993–2018
State Share of national employment Share of major work stoppages
California 13.6% 24.2%
Texas 9.6 2.9
New York 6.7 8.8
Florida 7.1 0.7
Pennsylvania 4.4 8.1
Illinois 4.4 9.1
Ohio 4.0 7.5
Georgia 3.5 1.3
Michigan 3.4 6.3
North Carolina 3.4 1.1
New Jersey 3.1 3.8
Number of major work stoppages by industry, 1993–2018
Industry Number of stoppages
Manufacturing 158
Health care and social assistance 83
Educational services 79
Construction 61
Transportation and warehousing 54
Public administration 23
Retail Trade 22
Information 20
Utilities 14
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 12
Accomodation and food services 10
Mining 8
Wholesale trade 4
Finance and insurance 4
Real estate and rental and leasin 3
Professional, scientific, and technical services 2
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 2

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