It’s All About Housing Prices

Well, obviously, not everything. But Ned Resnikoff makes a good point about the context in which the entertainment industry strikes are occurring (boldface mine):

Characteristically, I’d like to dedicate the rest of this post to discussing the last issue: the housing crisis, particularly in Los Angeles. Actors, writers, hotel workers, graduate students, and teachers have all cited housing instability as a key reason for their respective work stoppages. Collective bargaining agreements are supposed to guarantee some basic standard of living, but housing cost inflation keeps gnawing away at workers’ salaries faster than unions can negotiate pay bumps.

The housing crisis is bad for employers as well as workers: in cities where wage hikes don’t keep up with rent inflation, companies struggle to retain their best employees and attract new talent. But in the current labor dispute, some studio executives apparently see high housing costs as something they can use to their advantage…

Needless to say, this is psychopathic. But I want to emphasize that it’s also unbelievably stupid and short-sighted. High housing costs are part of what drove writers and actors to the picket lines in the first place; instead of disciplining labor, the housing crisis directly contributes to labor unrest.

That is no doubt a big part of the reason why many of the most significant strikes in the United States are currently taking place in and around Los Angeles. L.A. is where you have the confluence of a severe housing crisis, an unusually militant labor movement, and a group of workers who possess the leverage to shut down key sectors of the local economy….

If studio executives were genuinely interested in turning down the temperature on labor unrest and easing upward pressure on labor costs, they would see the housing crisis as a threat, not an asset. And instead of turning their substantial political power against their own workers, they would be using it to encourage homebuilding across Los Angeles. I’m not holding my breath for David Zaslav, Bob Iger and the rest to figure this out.

If my housing costs were double what they were (which adjusted for inflation is what they are–thanks for the information internet!), I don’t see how I could have completed graduate school without going into debt–and that was with roommates. I also remember when I was a post-doc, both the post-docs and graduate students informally organized to get higher wages–and amazingly won*–because they (we) couldn’t afford housing costs (this was a case of a university in an affluent suburban area that didn’t have enough apartments–and the community refused to build more). This also is not a new problem because this was literally decades ago.

Anyway, for most people, housing is a massive expense, and Resnikoff is right: until the problem is solved, we’re going to have more labor unrest because labor can’t afford to be restless.

*Most of the faculty were willing to be ‘forced’ to do this, in my opinion, and just needed an excuse to do so.

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