Grocery strikes in Missouri, California and West Virginia may only be the beginning, says labor expert

Neil Bernstein, an expert in labor law and legal issues relating to striking workers and a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, is closely following the grocery strikes. A member of the National Academy of Arbitrators, Bernstein serves as a mediator and consultant on labor and employment matters. He has followed labor issues for nearly a quarter of a century and most recently was a frequent commentator on the American Airlines employee disputes.

“The recent strikes by grocery workers in Missouri, California and West Virginia are indicative of a general economic dissatisfaction that could potentially expand into a broader confrontation between labor and management,” says Bernstein.

Bernstein notes that as employees continue to feel strapped by steady increases in the prices they must pay for food, shelter, transportation, education and health care, they are cognizant of the largesse that corporations have been showering on their senior managements and the resulting disparity between compensation at the top and at the bottom.

“Moreover, the employees are not persuaded by the arguments of their employers that unionized companies must keep their wages low to compete with non-union and foreign competition.”

At this point, the unions and the employers are at an impasse. “Each side is demanding a total surrender and there is little room for compromise,” says Bernstein.

“Management is entrenched because it knows that if it gives in to these workers, others will soon follow with the same demands. The employees are entrenched because they are sick and tired of the sacrifices they have been asked to make to keep their employers profitable. It is the classic situation of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, and no one knows which side will emerge the winner.”