Xiangyao Tang

on October 5, 2021 on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | Daily Utah Chronicle)

Over the past few months, there have been several different strikes around Salt Lake City. Several Starbucks stores around the city have been on strike since November 2022, and the Salt Lake Veterans Affairs Union recently organized one over inadequate pay and staff shortages.

According to University of Utah economics professor Peter Phillips, the increased number of strikes in the city is likely due to the low unemployment rate Utah is experiencing. Because of this, workers are less willing to face abuse than if the unemployment rate were high, he explained.

“When the unemployment rate is low, wage workers have options and one option is to quit your job and find another job if you’re unhappy,” Phillips said.

On March 22 this year, The Starbucks on 400 South was on strike.

From March 2021 to March 2022, employment increased in the five largest counties in Utah, and national employment increased 5% last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Before workers reach the point of striking, they usually try to negotiate with their employers, and strikes often only happen if nothing else works, said Eunice Hahn, a professor of economics at the United States.

“A strike is probably the last resort that employees can take,” Han said. “They probably complain and try to talk to someone but every attempt they make is rebuffed or rejected.”

On top of the low unemployment rate, the economy of Utah’s urban areas is booming as people move here from outlying states like California and Texas, Phillips said, adding that wages and working conditions remain the same while prices rise.

“When you have an underlying economy that’s booming, like Utah’s right now, one of the results is that there’s a housing shortage, and people from other places where the economy isn’t doing well can now come here,” Phillips said. “When that happens, demand for housing can outpace supply because there’s a delay and that drives up rents.”

While strikes continue and make headlines, the trend is not new in Utah, and has existed in public sector industries for most of the state’s history, Phillips said; Recently, this trend has spread to private sector businesses.

“Utah has a long history of integration, but that has been primarily in mining,” Phillips said. “When you start thinking about Starbucks or other service sector segments of the economy, it’s new, but it’s not surprising. It reflects the growth of the Utah economy.”

The recent Starbucks and Veterans Affairs strikes could potentially impact other businesses around town, Phillips said, prompting them to stand up for fairer working conditions.

“If union organizing and or strikes are successful, they emulate it and so there can be a wave of union organizing associated with the success of the leading effort to organize,” Phillips said. “I don’t think the broader economy will be affected, but it wouldn’t be surprising if these efforts succeed, others try themselves.”

Han said that strikes at various organizations and businesses usually end eventually, but if employees are not satisfied, these small protests will happen again in the future until an agreement is reached.

“If [employees] They will not get what they want from these strikes, it may stop for now, but it may happen again later,” Han said. “There will be constant pressure between workers and employers.”

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