In 2021, public resignations started going viral. On platforms like Twitter and Reddit, workers have started sharing text exchanges celebrating the exact times they hit a breaking point with their employers. One exchange that went viral earlier this year was this:
Chief: Hi Brandon. We’re short-staffed for the rest of the year because Sarah quit without warning. We’re really supported so I’m going to need you to come over Thanksgiving this year. Don’t be shocked if you have to come on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day too.
Worker: I already told you 3 weeks ago that I needed this week off and you agreed. Now you change your mind? I won’t be working for Thanksgiving, and if you ask again, I won’t be working for you at all.
Chief: We had to set expectations with you several times this year. Entering is the least you can do. Your PTO request has been denied. I’m not asking you to come in, I’m telling you you have to.
Worker: And I tell you, you won’t have any workers at all now. I stop.
As Emma Goldberg wrote in The New York Times recently, not so long ago, the idea of broadcasting the decision to quit a job was considered unwise. “Career coaches traditionally advised their clients not to disparage former employers online. Although there is always a subset of workers who have quit loudly on principle, recruiters have often raised their eyebrows at candidates who have gone public with negative experiences in their previous roles. But after more than a year of toiling through a pandemic, racial justice protests, and all the personal and societal turmoil that followed, some workers are ready to reject outdated professional standards and let off steam.
The development Goldberg describes isn’t just a social media fad, it’s part of a much larger trend that some economists have dubbed “The Great Resignation.” American workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers. According to Labor Department statistics, 4.3 million people dropped out of gigs in August, 4.4 million in September and 4.2 million in October. These are by far the highest rates seen since the Department began tracking such information two decades ago. The majority of these departures were initiated by low-wage workers in the service sector.
Now, a new study indicates that the big resignation could have a significant economic impact for many of these employees. A report by business research group the Conference Board estimates wages will rise 3.9% in 2022, the biggest jump since 2008. These increases are expected to materialize across the board and therefore include gains for low-wage hourly workers. While the study acknowledges that inflation may be part of this story, its authors cite labor shortages and high turnover rates as a contributing factor.
“Severe labor shortages are likely to continue into 2022. During this period, overall wage growth is expected to remain well above 4%,” concludes Gad Levanon, vice president of labor markets. at the Conference Board. “Wages for new hires and workers in blue-collar and manual service jobs will rise faster than average.”
While this is good news for millions of workers, experts warn these gains could prove short-lived unless accompanied by legislation that targets structural inequality more.
Yannet Lathrop is a senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit group that promotes policies for low-wage workers and the unemployed. “Right now, workers are in a better position to demand higher wages than they have for some time,” she said. Truth. “There are certainly tensions in the labor market – particularly in sectors such as leisure and hospitality, which traditionally pay low wages – and this seems to be a factor in why, anecdotally, we are seeing an increase in wages offered by employers. But the leverage available to workers is temporary. Eventually, the economy will rebound and labor market conditions will be less favorable for them to demand higher wages on their own. This is why it is important to ensure that workers continue to have a lever to demand more.
That sentiment was echoed by Jerry Carbo, a professor of labor and business and society relations at the University of Shippensburg and president of the National Workplace Bullying Coalition. “I would go to a really traditional labor analysis. … When labor is scarce, you have the power,” he said. Truth. “You can make yourself rare, and we see that with The Great Resignation. We have this potential leverage, but if we don’t organize it, all will be lost… If we don’t organize and we pass living wage laws or the minimum wage goes up dramatically, and we are not getting a strong labor movement again? All of these gains, particularly adjusted for inflation, are simply going to be lost.
Lathrop identified the Protection of the Right to Organize Act as an important pro-worker policy that could strengthen employee influence, expand collective bargaining rights, help raise wages and make it easier for workers to join a syndicate. Members of Our Revolution, Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the Worker Power Coalition are currently touring nationally over the holidays to rally support for the legislation. Their first stop was a protest outside the office of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), one of only two Democratic senators yet to endorse the bill.
“The idea is that it’s not just for one or two people,” said Dan Mauer, CWA’s director of government affairs. Politics. “Obviously there’s been a lot of attention on a few senators who haven’t signed yet, but we really think that’s the responsibility of the entire Democratic caucus. Obviously, we’d like Republican support as well. , but it seems less likely, so we’re trying to build momentum to show that no matter where you are – a swing state or a blue state or anything in between – it has to be a priority for you.
Carbo’s organization, National Workplace Bullying Coalition, is currently trying to pass the Dignity at Work Act at the state level. Versions of the bill have already been introduced in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The legislation aims to hold employers accountable for worker abuse and provide victims with affordable legal avenues. “Our workplace harassment laws just don’t work,” says Carbo. “The idea is that we have to tackle all the things that are abusive to workers and all the things that violate their basic human rights.”
The momentum for pro-worker bills is not just being generated by record turnover rates, but by a growing number of high-profile strikes and work stoppages. When around 100,000 workers threatened to strike in October 2021, many started calling the month “Striketober”. Kellogg’s workers just ended an 11-week strike with a new contract on Dec. 21, and on Dec. 9 workers at a Buffalo, New York, Starbucks voted to form a union, a historic first for the coffee chain.
“The leverage is there, but we need to get organized now,” Carbo said. Truth. “If we lose this moment, I’m not sure we’ll see another one.”