The past few years have been transformative for American workers. With the effects of the pandemic, the Great Resignation and general upheaval in myriad industries, workers are demanding more and fighting to get it. A government report from February 2023 indicates that due to the strength of the labor market and rise in popularity of unions, strikes increased by over 50% in 2022 — and that was well before the high-profile Screen Actor’s Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strikes kicked off, or the just-announced UAW action against the Big Three automakers. While strikes have obvious implications for businesses and industries, there are also the less obvious personal impacts that they have on individuals — and if those individuals are parents, then also on their children.
In conversations with parents on strike in different industries, a commonality is clear: They will keep fighting to improve their children’s lives and to set examples for their futures.
“I think a general misconception of strikes is that the workers that are on strike are lazy. But striking is so much more exhausting than working. It’s physical, and emotional, and mental,” shares Jacklyn Gabel, a mom, Starbucks shift manager and a leader in the Starbucks Workers Union campaign which organizes workers at Starbucks across the country. Her Starbucks location, in Santa Cruz, Calif., has been on strike five times and unionized in 2022.
“We’re fighting for medical insurance, our salaries, the amount of work, because now everything is so expensive in this city and this country,” adds Graciela Gomez, a room attendant at the Four Points Sheraton near Los Angeles International Airport for the last 23 years. Gomez, a mother of four adult children, is on strike with UNITE HERE Local 11. Dozens of hotels in Los Angeles currently have workers on strike, citing a central reason as their inability to live near their jobs on their current pay checks. Gomez notes that as one of her reasons for striking, but adds that taking care of her children is another. “One of my children has schizophrenia and so for me the most important thing is insurance,” she says. “He cannot work and I am the head of our household.”
Across the country in New York, Nick Blaemire and Ana Nogueira, parents to a 10-month-old daughter, have gone on strike for both SAG-AFTRA and WGA. While their jobs are not in the service industry, the universal desire to be fairly compensated and make a wage that allows them to care for their families is at the heart of everyone’s fight. “Everyone who gets into this industry knows that it's a gamble. But when we were first coming up, there was a real promise of a way to make a living, a good middle-class living, working only in entertainment,” says Nogueira, noting that doesn’t seem possible within the current systems.
“We are striking in pursuit of more economic certainty (or as much as you can get in this industry) for ourselves and for our daughter. Our hope is that this is a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain,” says Nogueira.
“In terms of work, it feels like a second pandemic,” adds Blaemire. “We used to be busy and now we're not. The upside is, we've had an extended parental leave. So that's the silver lining we're focusing on.”
Elsewhere in New York, Gia Crovatin and her husband are also a dual household who went on strike from SAG and WGA. With a 3-and-a-half-year-old, Crovatin says she finds herself trying to explain the fight in the simplest terms possible. “We’re not getting into too many details about capitalism but I tell her Mommy has to go into the city to do her work. And my work today is I’m going to go stand in line with people and make it be known that there are things that are wrong that we’re fighting to make right,” Crovatin shares. “I say things to her like, ‘Sometimes we have to stand up for everybody.’”
Crovatin notes that since the pandemic, their family finances have been tight. “We’ve never recovered from that time,” she says. “I’ve seen a massive decrease in residuals just in the past year,” she adds, mentioning that receiving 22-cent checks has become part of the norm. “My husband and I are prepared to stay the course of the fight,” she says. “But the logistics of that are going to be tough.”
For many striking workers, like Gabel and Gomez, strike funds help to keep them financially afloat while they are not receiving paychecks, but Gabel notes that retaliation from her employer is often waiting on the other side. “I’ve been here for a lot of hard shifts and every day feels like the hardest so far. But it’s intended that way to wear us down so that we leave and we never stick around long enough to fight back,” she shares. Yet she stays. “I love my job,” she adds. “I came to the company super-proud to work for Starbucks. I came for the progressive values, I love making coffee, I love connecting with folks. That’s why I stay.”
Gabel adds that her 10-year-old daughter is learning about workers' rights by watching her mother’s fight. “I lead by example, just like with anything else,” Gabel tells Yahoo Life. “My daughter is already so much more aware of the difference of right and wrong than I was her at age.”
“The work of people for the collective good is just so vital,” shares Crovatin. “That's honestly how I want to live my life, and how I want my daughter to learn how to live her life too.”
This article was originally published on Aug. 8, 2003 and has been updated.