Strike activity in the Washington area dropped back to normal last year after reaching record high levels during 1975, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
In 1975, strikes and lockouts resulted in 800,000 idle work days, or about .55 per cent of total work time in the District of Columbia. That was "tremendously high," almost three times the national average for that year, a BLS spokesman noted.
That was a recession year which saw the beginning of 40 strikes, including 9 in the suburbs, among them a series of construction strikes which idled as many as 24,000 workers and delayed constructions of Metro; a major strike against The Washington Post by its pressmen, and other strikes or lockouts involving Teamsters (against liquor distributors and moving companies), bus drivers, restaurant employees, retail store employees and others.
Last year, time lost due to work stoppages declined dramatically to 111,000 idle work days or .08 per cent of total work time. Fewer than 5,000 workers were involved in the 16 strikts or lockouts reported.
"Washington is an area dominated by government that you expect fewer strikes there," according to Alan Paisner, a regional economist for BLS. Thus normal theories about fluctuations in strike activity do not necessarily apply.
Nationally, all strike activity is increasing, Paisner said. Last year, an estimated .19 per cent of total work time was idle because of strike activity, an increase from .16 per cent in 1975. The number of stoppages rose by about 600, and the number of idle work days rose by more than 6 million, to nearly 38 million days.
According to Bruce Johnston of the Washington Central Labor Council, there was an "incredible number of contracts up for renewal during 1975."
Johnston said that factor, plus the strike at The Post, were probably the primary reasons for the record high. Other influences, he said, were changes in the political picture, the makeup of the National Labor Relations Board and economic pressures.
"Workers' gains had been eradicated by double digit inflation, and you had had wage-price controls during 1971-1972 . . . So workers had to take a much harder line at the bargaining table," he said.
According to Ben Segal, a labor txpert in the Mayor Walker Washington's office, since 1971-72 unions have been feeling a "recession of the spirit." Increasing inroads by out-of-town or non-union contractors, setbacks such as the Post strike, as well as a "more effective working relationship between the government unions and the District government," have left the unions "less motivation for being militant," he said.