New York Labor Law Blog

New Museum workers vote to authorize strike

Museum workers in New York may potentially go on strike following an authorization vote that came after months of contract negotiations. The New Museum Union said that members had agreed to strike after museum officials failed to agree to its demands for health care for all museum workers, greater safety protections and a minimum annual salary of $51,000 for all workers at the institution. Union leaders said that New Museum officials had rejected the demands and that negotiations had been going on for nearly a full year. A member of the bargaining committee said that museum officials were "hostile" to the majority of union proposals in the bargaining process.

Museum officials claimed that the collective bargaining negotiations were not stalled and that both parties had accepted some of the other's proposals during the talks. They said they were hopeful that a contract could be reached before workers walked off the job. Union members also said that there had been some forward movement in the talks but that the strike vote was important as a means of demonstrating the workers' seriousness about their demands. The union declined to name a specific deadline for reaching a contract before the strike vote would be implemented, saying that members had not agreed to public disclosure.

Auto strike largest in 12 years

As New York union members likely know, auto workers have gone on strike across the country against General Motors. This is the first strike in the industry in over a decade, and workers at 31 factories and 21 other GM facilities are participating in the action. The walkout marks the largest strike in the country since the last GM worker action in 2007. Union workers declared their plans to strike in a press conference on Sept. 15, saying that they are seeking higher wages and improved profit-sharing.

Union representatives noted that collective bargaining is ongoing in order to reach a new contract. Workers noted that they sacrificed and worked 10 years ago to help GM get out of bankruptcy after the 2008 financial crisis. They want GM to stop using so many temporary workers and provide a clear mechanism for them to become permanent employees. Other issues, including health care benefits, also divide the two sides. Workers are also concerned about four GM plants planned for closure in the coming period. The company said that it had proposed a "solution" for two of the four plants, and sources indicated that the company planned to move toward electric vehicle production at two of the factories.

New York continues to lead the way for workers’ rights

New York has strong protections in place for workers, but the federal government has continued to weaken laws concerning workers’ rights and safety. Over the past year, the state has answered with legislation to counter those efforts.

The current economic system benefits employers by giving them disproportionate bargaining power when dealing with employees and allowing corporations to attack labor unions, which have fought hard for workers.

New York union may gain by dropping members

One of New York's largest public-sector unions recently encouraged about 100 of its dues-paying members to seek representation elsewhere. The move may seem strange considering how difficult unions around the country are finding it to attract members, but it makes sense when the federal laws that govern trade unions are taken into consideration. The members who left the Public Employees Federation were the organization's only private-sector workers, which means that the union is now made up entirely of public-sector workers and is no longer subject to the provisions of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

The LMRDA was passed in 1959 to combat corruption in trade unions and curb racketeering. The law requires labor organizations to submit financial reports to the U.S. Department of Labor and tasks the federal agency with reviewing union elections. Union members are also guaranteed freedom of speech. Several current and former PEF officials have criticized the move and say that it will inevitably lead to malfeasance.

Anti-union tweet prompts angry reaction

The founder of a New York-based pop culture and sports blog recently took to Twitter to threaten workers who are thinking about forming a union. In the Aug. 13 tweet, David Portnoy said that any workers who asked for advice about organizing would be fired on the spot. The brash entrepreneur has been a harsh critic of unions in the past and it is not clear if his tweet was intended to be taken seriously, but that did not stop lawmakers, state officials and union representatives from reacting angrily to it.

The New York State Department of Labor and the AFL-CIO both pointed out on Twitter that the right to organize is protected for American workers by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warned Portnoy that simply tweeting the threat could lead to lawsuits. The tweet may have provoked such a strong reaction because online publishing is one of the few areas of the economy where unions are gaining a foothold and becoming more popular.

Unions oppose change in apprenticeship program

The Department of Labor has proposed some changes to apprenticeship rules as part of creating apprenticeship programs that are regulated by industry, but some New York labor unions are speaking out against the proposal. On Aug. 5, Rep. Anthony Brindisi and labor leaders in Binghamton announced their opposition.

Brindisi said he hopes they will be able to block the passage of the plan. He acknowledged the value of apprenticeship programs and their potential to lead to good careers, but he said it was also important to ensure that state organizations, such as state departments of labor, certified the programs. One of the main objections to the proposal is that it could lead to programs that undermine the system that already exists and provide inferior training and oversight.

How Americans feel about the country’s labor unions

For decades, unions have represented workers in some of America’s most iconic industries. From miners to steelworkers, teachers to manufacturing workers, and electricians to service employees, unions sought to serve the interests of their members.

While their commitment to members remains the same, labor unions are changing. So are the views people have of unions. Here’s a look at how Americans feel about labor unions nearly two decades into the 21st century.

The evolution of the labor movement

Some employees in New York may be members of labor unions, which work to protect employees and to keep wages and work conditions fair. Although labor unions are a common part of the employment landscape today, workers' rights to unionize were not recognized until the 20th century.

One of the earliest concerns of the labor movement was the exploitation of children in the workplace. Leaders also fought to bring the workday for all workers down to 10 hours daily. The passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act gave many employees a right to an eight-hour workday. Today, the labor movement continues to fight for fair wages for employees, including efforts to increase the federal minimum wage.

NLRB receives complaint about Spot Coffee

A manager and two employees who worked for Spot Coffee in Upstate New York were reportedly terminated for trying to join a union. The employees were terminated for organizing a meeting while the manager was terminated for refusing to tell the company who attended it. A state lawmaker has called for a boycott of the company and said that unions were an important part of America.

Spot Coffee posted a message to its Facebook page claiming that it did not terminate the employees because of their desire to form a union. However, it didn't say why the employees were ultimately let go. A complaint was made to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the company said that it would defend its actions during a future meeting. An employee of Spot Coffee said that the workers lacked protections without a union and that workers were routinely terminated without knowing why.

BuzzFeed employees stop work to protest union delays

On the afternoon of June 17, BuzzFeed journalists in New York and three other cities stopped work to protest the company's slow response to employees' votes to unionize. The vote in February came after the company laid off dozens of employees. Each side accuses the other of stalling the process.

BuzzFeed employees say the dispute is over eligibility to join the bargaining unit. The company employs more than 200 journalists throughout the United States but has offered to allow just 77 of them to join. Employees say that BuzzFeed is trying to define job titles that are permitted to join the union so the company can create new job titles in the future that are not eligible. They also say that the company claims some employees are management despite not supervising any workers. BuzzFeed says their attorneys are in daily negotiations and that they have a strong proposal for moving ahead with the process.

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