At the end of each year, TIME Magazine announces its person of the year. Some recent recipients of this honor include President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, businessman (and Twitter killer) Elon Musk, and the Silence Breakers who spoke out against sexual abuse and harassment. In 1982, "The Computer" was named "Machine of the Year" to herald the dawn of the Information Age.
According to Wikipedia, "The Person of the Year (called Man of the Year or Woman of the Year until 1999) is an annual issue of TIME Magazine, the American news magazine and website, featuring a person, a group, an idea, or object, that for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year."
So who made news during 2023? Certainly, the Ukraine/Russia conflict has continued to make news, and the recent Israel/Hamas conflict has made news. But there is one story that continues to dominate the news, and I bet it will win this year's honor: America's Striking Workers.
During 2023, labor strikes happened virtually EVERYWHERE and by nearly EVERYONE.
"This is certainly the biggest moment for labor, and the most active period that I've seen in my career," explained Sharon Block, executive director at Harvard Law School's Center for Labor and a Just Economy.
"Altogether, there have been 312 strikes involving roughly 453,000 workers so far in 2023, compared with 180 strikes involving 43,700 workers over the same period two years ago. This is a pretty considerable uptick relative to the rest of the 21st century. With each successful outcome, other labor actions are more likely to follow. Strikes can often be contagious," said Johnnie Kallas in late October. Kallas is a PhD candidate at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the project director of the ILR Labor Action Tracker.
According to CNN, in late March, "Service Employees International Union Local 99 represents 30,000 school custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and other student services staff at Los Angeles schools. The 3-day strike that kept a half-million students out of classrooms this past week has ended, but that happened even before the union announced a tentative labor contract on Friday. Still, the union’s success is another sign of why short-term strikes like it are surging nationwide."
Professional writers (represented by the Writers Guild of America) were on strike from May through September. In New York and Hollywood, major celebrities walked in solidarity with the WGA for weeks; comedian and game show host Drew Carey paid more than a half-million dollars to feed striking writers in California for months.
The SAG-AFTRA actors' strike began in July, effectively stopping the entertainment industry from doing any business. This was the first time that both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA went on strike together since 1960. (The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is an American labor union that reflects the 2012 merger of SAG and AFTRA and represents approximately 160,000 media professionals worldwide.) The strike showed signs of ending last week.
According to Forbes, in June, "Hospitality workers at 61 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange County authorized a strike with 96% of members voting yes. Contract negotiations had broken down in April, and the union’s contracts with the 61 different hotels expired on June 30. The workers officially walked out on July 1. The workers, who are represented by Unite Here Local 11, were striking for better wages, healthcare benefits, a pension, and safer workloads. The union also sought to create a hospitality workforce housing fund (paid for via a proposed tax to be levied on hotel room sales and home-sharing), as rising housing costs had forced many workers to move farther away from their jobs requiring long commutes. Meanwhile, hotel profits have soared, particularly after receiving billions in federal bailout money during the pandemic."
In June, workers at 150 Starbucks stores across the United States went on a week-long, staggered strike to protest the company's removal and ban on LGBT pride decor - June is Pride Month. The strike followed an unfair labor practices charge, filed June 7 with the National Labor Relations Board, amid worsening treatment of LGBTQ+ employees. On June 26, Starbucks issued a press release promising to offer clearer guidelines surrounding the display of LGBT decor policy in response to the strike.
In July, the package delivery company United Parcel Service (UPS) narrowly averted a strike at the eleventh hour that would have been the largest single-employer labor stoppage in US history due to its number of 350,000 full- and part-time workers.
In July, Southwest Airlines pilots were on the picket line at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) says they have been trying for three years to reach an agreement with the airline, and 99 percent of union members voted in May in favor of a strike. Southwest pilots also picketed at Los Angeles International, Hartsfield Jackson International (Atlanta), Houston Hobby and Chicago Midway airports.
Also in July, flight attendants at American Airlines voted to strike while fighting for a new contract with pay raises and more staffing on flights.
Then, the United Auto Workers (UAW) launched a targeted strike against Ford Motor Co., General Motors, and Stellantis in the early hours of September 15. Since then, more than 30,000 workers have been off the job at 44 facilities across the United States and Canada. On September 26, President Biden walked the picket line in Belleville, Michigan, in favor of the striking auto workers, and met with UAW president Sean Fain. The strike showed signs of ending last week.
In October, more than 75,000 health-care workers walked off the job at Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest non-profit health-care organization, driven in part by demands for higher pay in the midst of staffing shortages, which left employees burned out.
According to Reuters, tech workers at the New York Times went on strike for half a day on Monday, October 30, because they accused the publisher of attempting to unilaterally force them back to the office. Nearly 700 workers held demonstrations on Zoom and outside the company's headquarters in Manhattan.
According to the BBC, "The American strike culture may continue if workers increasingly see that these movements work."
And what about from a marketing perspective? Are customers and fans more likely to support these brands because workers went on strike? Do they agree with workers' demands? Or are they simply striking "in spirit" alongside workers because they cannot go on strike from their own jobs?
What do you think? Do you agree with my choice for TIME Magazine's 2023 Person of the Year? Only a short time until TIME makes its official announcement!
While compiling this lengthy list, I found an interesting book by Kim Kelly entitled, "Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor." One review explains, "Inspirational, intersectional, and full of crucial lessons from the past, Fight Like Hell shows what is possible when the working class demands the dignity it has always deserved."
Check it out on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1982171057?tag=simonsayscom
For a full list of all recipients of the TIME Magazine Person of the Year honor, check out this link:
Image Credits: TIME Magazine and Refresh Financial.