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Opinion
Brooke Sutherland

Unions Are on the Rise, But So Are the Robots

The labor crunch is giving workers more negotiating power but also boosting automation investments. Earnings season was generally fine. Plus the deals of the week. 

Once companies have gone mechanical, they aren't going back.

Once companies have gone mechanical, they aren't going back.

Photographer: Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images

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U.S. manufacturers hired 60,000 people in October, double economists’ estimates and the most since June of last year. It was a robust showing, led by automakers. But payrolls in the sector are still down by almost 300,000 since the end of 2019, even as many large industrial companies are reporting sales above pre-pandemic levels. Last month’s recruitment success will only make a modest dent in the nearly 900,000 open manufacturing positions as of the end of August. The tight labor market has created a moment for unions: Deere & Co. workers this week felt so confident in their value to the company that they voted down a revised contract proposal that included substantial wage increases and enhanced retirement benefits. It’s also creating a moment for robots.