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Labor stoppages and changes to payroll employment

Data from the BLS

When unionized workers go on strike, the total amount of hours worked in the economy decreases; but the level of employment reported each month in the Current Employment Statistics survey may not show a similar change. The impact of labor stoppages on the number of people on payrolls depends on the timing and duration of those collective bargaining actions.

The FRED graph above shows the employment level in the motor vehicles and parts industry reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics between January 1990, the earliest available data, and the time of this writing. Two major labor stoppages stand out: the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 and the 54-day strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union against General Motors in July 1998.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a monthly strike report of labor stoppages of 1,000 workers or more who were idle during a complete pay period while the Current Employment Statistics survey was conducted. Depending on the industry, the pay period may be weekly, biweekly, monthly, or semimonthly. The reference date for conducting the CES survey is the 12th day of the month.

To learn more about this topic, read “Understanding strikes in CES estimates” by John P. Mullins in the Monthly Labor Review. You can check the industry data referenced in Figure 1 of that publication in this FRED graph. For more information on current UAW contract negotiations, look to the Chicago Fed.

Other large-scale labor actions, such as the August 1983 telecommunication workers strike against AT&T, are also visible in FRED. However, the ongoing Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is not immediately noticeable in the recent overall employment figures for that industry. That may well be a case where the full story is truly behind the numbers and a data graph is unable to tell it.

How this graph was created: From FRED’s main page, search for and select “All Employees, Motor Vehicles and Parts.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

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