Are Higher Ed Strikes on the Rise? New Study Examines Work Stoppage


“Strikes and strike threats are powerful tools.”

So say the authors of a recent study, published in Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, that looks deeply at “work stoppage” — including strikes and lockouts— in the nation over the years.

Distinguished Lecturer William A. Herbert (Hunter College) and Assistant Professor Jacob Apkarian (York College) examined work stoppage data from 2012 to 2018. They compared the findings with data collected from 1966-1994, and found that the number of strikes and lockouts has decreased. 

The researchers noted: “Higher education strikes can arise in many contexts: to attain union recognition; as a tactic in negotiations; as a response to unfair labor practices or the imposition of austerity measures; to protect academic freedom and tenure rights; to protest disciplinary action and policy changes; or in sympathy with strikes by others.”

From 2012 to 2018, there was a total of 42 strikes and one lock-out, the authors found. They involved faculty, graduate assistants, and non-academic employees in higher education. The most strikes occurred in 2018. There was an average of two strikes annually during that seven-year period, while 1966-1994 saw, on average, 5.9 strikes a year.

Despite the decrease, the authors noted that the number of strikes has climbed in recent years — and it’s likely that the trend could continue.

“The 2018 spike in strikes in higher education, along with the much larger public school strikes, suggests that the frequency of strikes is growing,” the researchers wrote.

“Successful strikes and strike threats are inspiring others to adopt those tools to obtain union recognition, to fight austerity, and to gain improvements in working and learning conditions on campus.”

Beyond SUM

Work By

William A. Herbert (Distinguished Lecturer and Executive Director, National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, Sociology) | Profile 1
Jacob Apkarian (Assistant Professor, Sociology) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

Hunter College
York College