Labor and law professor Michael LeRoy is an expert on collective bargaining, advising a presidential council during a 2002 lockout that snarled shipping at more than two dozen West Coast ports. With strikes by Broadway stagehands and Hollywood writers now threatening the nation's lucrative entertainment industry, LeRoy discusses the implications on both unions and audiences in an interview with News Bureau business and law editor Jan Dennis.
Do the strikes by Hollywood writers and New York City stagehands signal a resurgence of labor unions or are they merely an anomalous coincidence?
The timing of the two strikes is coincidental and does not indicate a general upsurge in striking. However, unions have been resurgent, especially in the past two years, in the legislative arena. They registered a big victory when they played a prominent role in electing a Democratic Congress, and in many states they have helped to pass new health-insurance laws and minimum-wage increases. But unions have been reluctant to strike since the 1980s, primarily because employers have won those economic contests.
How likely are the stagehand and writers' strikes to succeed, given their power to effectively shut down original entertainment on television and on stage?
The history of these two strikes suggests that unions will probably be offered a somewhat improved contract compared with the one they rejected. And in these two instances, workers are not as subject to permanent replacement as are factory employees. Still, these unions have generally avoided strikes, probably because their leaders realize that business tends to be hurt by a work stoppage, and their members incur a significant short-term cost.
Do high-profile strikes such as these create support for labor in the public's eye, or anger because audiences lose their favorite TV shows and theatrical offerings?
Polling data over the past 10 years has indicated about 65 percent support for unions, though no polling data specifically shows how the public feels about these two strikes. There is a widely diffused sense, among the public, that unions are an important voice that serves as a check against certain excesses by corporate America.