Increasingly Cautious, Unions Less Likely To Strike In 1952 there were 470 strikes nationally; in 2010 there were 11. A chief tool of labor unions, striking has clearly declined sharply in the past few decades amid economic shifts and growing anti-union sentiment.
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Increasingly Cautious, Unions Less Likely To Strike

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Increasingly Cautious, Unions Less Likely To Strike

Increasingly Cautious, Unions Less Likely To Strike

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

In the first of two reports on organized labor, NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on why strikes are now so rare.

SONARI GLINTON: Here's an interesting stat: In 1952, there were 470 work stoppages, or strikes. In 2010, there were 11. If you want to understand part of why 470 turned into 11, you only need to sit down with Mark Sanders and his father, Lefty.

LARRY: I've went by Lefty since I've been 10 years old.

GLINTON: Where'd you get that nickname from?

SANDERS: Pitching baseball.

GLINTON: Not because you're a union man.

SANDERS: No. No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: Mark Sanders says union organizing now is a lot different than when his father was running things.

MARK SANDERS: Really, we've professionalized it, if you will - put it in a room like this with a table, and really do the good work of professional negotiation sessions rather than a take-it-or-leave-it.

GLINTON: But if you ask Lefty how he and his son differ on the job, he'll pull out a piece of paper and tell you.

LARRY SANDERS: You had Canton two times, Youngstown two times, Marion, Mansfield, Findlay, Fostoria, Lorraine - Mansfield and Lorraine was the same time - Steubenville, Dayton, Toledo, Lima.

GLINTON: Those weren't just random Ohio cities. They're cities where Lefty Sanders oversaw firefighter strikes. As Sanders recalls, there were once as many as 10 strikes in 20 months. But the strike in Toledo is what Lefty Sanders calls the mother of all strikes.

SANDERS: You could look out over Toledo in the morning. It looked like Atlanta burning, and you saw them old Civil War pictures.

GLINTON: And it wasn't just firefighters who walked off the job.

SANDERS: In the morning, when they went on the strike, the bridge tenders left all seven bridges up in the air in Toledo - walked out. The police drove about 200 cruisers downtown and parked them in disarray, left the lights and sirens on, and threw keys down the sewers. That's how frustrated people were. These are not children doing this.

GLINTON: Do you think that that strike, or those strikes, turned the public opinion against unions?

WILLIAM BATCHELDER: No. Well, obviously it was something that had alienated a lot of people.

GLINTON: That's Republican William Batchelder, speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives. Batchelder was in the House in the '70s during Ohio's labor turmoil. He says the damage was obvious.

BATCHELDER: Because they look to the people who were the safety forces to do - I mean, those are lifesaving duties. They're some of our most important public employees, in terms of their importance to the average citizen.

GLINTON: David Stebenne is a professor of history and law at Ohio State University. Stebenne says the Toledo strike, and the many strikes across the country in the '70s, damaged the image of unions.

DAVID STEBENNE: The closer it gets towards a public employee who, on a daily basis, does something that saves lives, the more resistant the public is to striking. They may be sympathetic to other forms of labor activity, but simply walking off the job in those is not genuinely viewed as acceptable.

GLINTON: Stebenne says union workers initially won the battles of the late '70s and '80s. But increased foreign competition and other economic factors led to more anti-union sentiment.

STEBENNE: And so if you go on strike, it's a much more perilous thing to do. You might actually lose. And your union might be destroyed in the process. And so labor, as it gets weaker, becomes ever more cautious.

GLINTON: Lefty Sanders, though, remains unapologetic.

SANDERS: I'm not making this up. When he got this job, I said, I hope you never have to do - and work - in the same situations we did. Unfortunately, it may be coming to pass.

GLINTON: Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Unidentified Man: If that molten iron gets spilled or they fall down or like, from the heat or something, they never find him. It's impossible. Twenty-two hundred degrees - you would vanish in a moment.

INSKEEP: More of that story tomorrow.

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