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Work Stoppages: History

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has collected information on work stoppages (strikes and lockouts) in the United States dating back to the 1880s. Over the long history of providing work stoppage data, there have been scope and publication changes to reflect both labor trends and legislative changes in program funding. In addition, changes in union membership, establishment size, and other factors have led to significant reductions in the number of major work stoppages.

BLS has published two work stoppage series. The first one ran from 1947 through 1981. The second series began in 1982, but contains data starting with 1947. Both include administrative data collected through available news sources and verified by the parties whenever possible. Historical publications can be found at the BLS Work Stoppages program website, from the Department of Labor Wirtz Labor Library, and from the National Archives.

Under the first Work Stoppage program (1947–81)

BLS reported all work stoppages in the United States that involved six workers or more and continued for the equivalent of a full day or shift or longer.

  • Information on the actual or probable existence of work stoppages from available sources.
  • News articles on labor disputes were obtained from a comprehensive coverage of daily and weekly newspapers throughout the country.
  • Information was also regularly received from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and state labor-related agencies.
  • Questionnaires were then sent to the parties who furnished BLS with information on a voluntary basis.
  • The data were compiled and published each year.
  • Because of budget reductions, the series was terminated in January 1982.  Detailed statistical data were printed in the annual reports, commonly referred to as the “Analysis of Work Stoppage” bulletins. (The last bulletin, containing 1980 data, was published in March 1982).

In February 1982, BLS initiated its major work stoppage series:

  • The series includes work stoppages idling 1,000 workers or more for the equivalent of a full shift, full day, or longer.
  • Using data from the old series, BLS extended the major work stoppage series back to include data starting in 1947.
  • The Work Stoppages program currently produces 12 monthly data releases and 1 annual news release, typically published in February, summarizing the prior year.
  • Monthly data are typically released the Friday after The Employment Situation release for the prior month, and considered preliminary and subject to change until the annual news release is published.

Timeline of events:

1895: Publication of BLS Bulletin #1–Strikes and Lockouts in the United States, from January 1, 1881 to June 30, 1894.

1937: Publication of BLS Bulletin #651–Strikes in the United States, 1880 to 1936 (with focus on strikes during the period 192736). Annual publications begin on strike data through 1943.

1947: Introduction of annual work stoppages (includes strikes and lockouts) data based on Taft-Hartley Act.

1949: Introduction of “Analysis of Work Stoppages” publications. Available historical work stoppages publications are available in Work Stoppages Frequently Asked Questions.

1952: Record high for number of annual major work stoppages–470.

1982: Program change to capture data only on major work stoppages of 1,000 or more workers, due to end of funding for the BLS Division of Industrial Relations. 

1992: First news release for Major Work Stoppages included cumulative totals and analysis of data for the calendar year. Archive News Releases are available to the present year.

1993: Detailed monthly data published, including the number of major work stoppages beginning and in effect during each month. Detailed historical data listing are available back to 1993.

2003: Industry classification of establishments involved in work stoppages is added to detailed monthly data. Industry classification is based on the most current NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) edition (currently 2017).

2009: Record low for number of major work stoppages–5.

2016: Historical work stoppages publications available at www.bls.gov/wsp/wspfaq.htm#Question_10.


The Work Stoppages Program was at one time part of the BLS National Compensation Survey chapter of the Handbook of Methods. The archived WSP appeared as an appendix in the chapter available at https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/pdf/ncs-20110404.pdf#page=22.

Last Modified Date: January 23, 2019