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Why workers in Kansas City and around the country are going on strike: 'We want our fair share'

People outside of a Starbucks restaurant stand on a sidewalk and city streets.  One person is waving a large blue flag that reads "UAW Local 245." Others are holding round, blue signs that read "UAW."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Members of UAW Local 249 rally in solidarity with employees of the now closed Starbucks in the Plaza on March 4, 2022.

Between auto workers, Hollywood, and baristas, it seems like workers are walking out on the job more often this year. Experts say wealth inequalities, inflation and a cultural shift in expectations from jobs are contributing to a more active labor movement.

Auto workers. Hollywood actors and writers. Starbucks employees. The last couple of years have been big ones for the labor movement — the number of workers who went on strike was 50% higher last year than in 2021, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And that's not counting work stoppages, a protest by employees who aren't unionized — such as the one by CVS pharmacists in Kansas City over their working conditions last week. Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relation's Labor Action Tracker has counted nearly 300 instances of labor action so far this year.

Sirisha Naidu, an associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said that there's a variety of factors at play. Inflation is making it harder to live, and significant pay gaps between corporate executives and employees, as well as a culture shift that started in the pandemic are playing a role as well.

The United Auto Workers have called 38 plants to strike against GM and Stellantis since the union and auto makers failed to come to an agreement two weeks ago. Workers at the Fairfax GM plant in Kansas City, Kansas, are not currently striking, but were laid off last week due to a lack of parts.

"So that's why you're seeing... the workforce rising up and saying, 'Enough is enough,'" said Dontay Wilson, the president of UAW Local 31, which represents the workers at the Fairfax factory. "We want our fair share, right? No one's trying to be a millionaire on the backs of a manufacturing job for General Motors."

  • Dontay Wilson, president, UAW Local 31
  • Sirisha Naidu, associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City
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