For more than a year, the Federal Reserve has tried to cool down the economy with interest rate hikes, hoping to temper the continually expanding job market — and inadvertently creating a new and interesting power dynamic, where workers have potentially more power than they did before.

“There's almost two job openings for every person looking for a job, so they have a lot of options,” explained Dr. Christopher Kayes, a professor of management at the George Washington University. “Employers are really…having a hard time finding workers. So the power dynamic has really shifted more to the employee.”

It’s a result of what Kayes calls “the great dismay.”

“About 30% of the population has switched jobs in the last couple of years, and what they're seeing is that by moving to another job, things aren't getting better," Kayes explained. "The way I've been thinking about this is they're moving from ‘take this job and shove it’ to ‘let's give this job a chance,' and so they're trying to make the changes in the job themselves, rather than just jumping around and trying to find that work in another place." 

“I think that's why you're starting to see a lot more unionization activity, you're starting to see workers revolting and picketing outside of major orchids organizations and major companies, because they're just not willing to, to put up with the same kind of working conditions that they don't like or that are making them unhappy in the workplace.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions increased by nearly 2% to 14.3 million. New York and Hawaii had the highest amount of union memberships ar 20% or higher, a number of states, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, South Dakota, Idaho, and Utah had the lowest, 4.9% or less. Despite that growth, the BLS sees 10.1% of wage and salary workers who belong to unions as a record low, since so many jobs were added to the economy in 2022.

But the excitement of organizing, according to AFL-CIO Deputy Organizing Director Christian Sweeney, has some serious momentum.

“This is an exciting, exciting time to be in the labor movement, exciting time for workers who want to be part of the movement. And, you know, it's, I've been organizing for a little over ... 25 years or so, and I've never seen this level of sort of mass interest in organizing, that's cutting across industries cutting across different parts of the country,” said Sweeney.

Sweeney got his start as a labor organizer back in 1997, when he helped organize teaching assistants and acting instructors at the University of California when he was a teaching assistant at UC Berkeley. He helped to negotiate a 40% pay raise for his contemporaries, and decided to pursue organizing full time. He says organizing and the right to do so is a core part of our country.

“Fundamentally, if we're going to have a democracy that shares the benefit of the economy with workers in a way that doesn't just drive inequality, and doesn't just protect the very, very wealthy, we have to have a robust labor movement, and robust collective bargaining. And it's really a fundamental part of what our economy is and what our country is,” said Sweeney.

Kayes says the robust jobs market should protect workers should the economy see a recession in the coming months, going as far as to say he believes if we do see a recession, it will be “a small recession” with full employment.

“Typically when we have a recession, we see a lot of job losses. And that's in some ways, what the Federal Reserve is hoping for is that by raising interest rates, they can slow the number of jobs that are out there. So unemployment would actually increase and that's the way it's happened really for the last 30 years or so,” explained Kayes. “But what we're seeing now is that dynamic isn't isn't happening, we're seeing [is] that unemployment continues to be low, even though inflation is increasing."

"We're going to have a lot of jobs out there, people are going to still have options for where they work, even though inflation is going to be high," Kayes added. "And growth for a lot of these companies is going to be fairly flat.”

“Economists are mixed on this, some economists think that we're headed for recession, and that's going to be bad for workers, because they're going to have a harder time finding a job and they're not going to continue to get the raises. I don't buy that,” Kayes added. “I think that because of the way that the demographics of our country look right now, workers are going to continue to have the upper hand in the economy.”