New York Labor Law Blog

NewsGuild of New York welcomes 2 new publications to union

The majority of employees at the publications Pitchfork and Ars Technica have voted to authorize union membership and join the NewsGuild of New York. Condé Nast owns both publications, and a spokesperson from the media company said that management would evaluate the demands for union recognition.

Concerns that prompted editorial workers at the publications to unionize included job security, layoff procedures, and fair cost of living raises. They also want to pursue policies that would expand diversity in their workplaces. At Pitchfork, staff members expressed a desire to evaluate the pay received by their subcontracted colleagues who work for an outside staffing agency. The vote at Ars Technica marked the first time that an entirely remote staff chose to form a union.

Labor agreement reached between developer and union association

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) reached an agreement with Related Cos., a major city developer. The agreement could lead to improved labor relations at work sites managed by the development company. Over the years, the BCTC and local labor unions have challenged Related's alleged union-busting practices and violations of the National Labor Relations Act. There has been a significant amount of litigation between the parties in the past as well as an ongoing media and public campaign that has included protests at construction sites.

The conflict between the BCTC and Related flared up again during work on the $25-billion Hudson Yards Manhattan development. The developer claimed that union corruption had cheated it of $100 million during an earlier phase of the project. It sued the BCTC, claiming that the union association was attempting to include problematic companies in the ongoing project. Related filed another suit, claiming that the union council was delaying progress at the development, including through members refusing to deliver concrete to the site.

Public sector unions continue to grow in New York

While many have warned of the detrimental effects of one U.S. Supreme Court decision undermining union rights, labor organizing in New York has continued to remain strong. Janus v. AFSCME, decided in June 2018, undermined the ability of public sector unions to assess fees from non-members of the union to cover the cost of collective bargaining for the entire group of workers. In the past, these non-members had to pay an agency fee to contribute to the costs of bargaining. The decision was widely interpreted as a conservative attempt to reduce the ability of public sector workers to organize, defend their rights and speak collectively.

However, New York unions have continued to grow, including in the public sector. The New York State United Teachers added 15,097 more dues-paying members for the 2018 fiscal year. This increased the union's membership to 426,396, marking a 4 percent increase overall for the organization. In addition, the Civil Service Employees Association, representing laborers at the state and municipal levels, grew to 230,354 dues-paying members in 2018, an increase of 4,294 from the previous year.

Buzzfeed employees work to unionize

Following a round of layoffs, employees of the digital media company Buzzfeed are working to establish a union with NewsGuide of New York. More than 200 people were let go from the company in January. In doing so, Buzzfeed joined several other digital media companies, including HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo, that have laid off workers. Buzzfeed's CEO said the layoffs were necessary despite the company's revenue growth.

Buzzfeed initially also said it would not pay earned PTO to the employees it laid off, but after public pressure, the company reversed its decision. Guaranteed paid time off was one of the demands of the unionizing employees along with affordable health insurance, 401(k)s, rights to their creative work, diversity, severance pay and due process when terminations were necessary. They also say there are unfair discrepancies in pay and other grievances. Buzzfeed employees have been trying to unionize for years without success, but they say they are increasing their efforts. The CEO of Buzzfeed has made statements indicating his resistance to unions.

Unions push back against major online retailer

Outside of City Hall in New York City, protesters representing the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union stood against the city's decision to let Amazon establish a headquarters in Queens. A major part of their complaint was the online retailer's policy to only hire non-union employees. When asked during a meeting whether or not Amazon would be willing to let its workers unionize, a representative from the company stated that they would not.

New York City is giving the large online retailer $3 billion in subsidies to establish their headquarters in Queens, but many council members are not sure what the benefit is for the city. Advocates for workers are concerned about Amazon entering the city due to its history of poor labor practices. While the corporation made some promises about funding local schools and other programs, it's not yet clear whether or not they will follow through with their commitments.

Servers being let go as restaurants are forced to increase prices

After New York raised the minimum wage at the start of the year, the city's residents noticed a change in something else: the price of food. Unfortunately, servers who expected to be paid more are now being let go.

On January 1, 2019, the minimum wage in New York raised from around $13 dollars per hour up to $15 per hour. In order to account for the wage bump, restaurant owners have made their own changes as well. According to a recent article, menu prices are higher at almost every restaurant in the city, and customers are foregoing eating out as a result.

Lyft looks to block driver minimum wage in NYC

Lyft, a ride-sharing company, has filed a lawsuit trying to block New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission from implementing a new law that raises the minimum wage for ride-sharing drivers to $17.22 per hour.

Because Uber has a larger share of the market, the law unfairly gives that company an advantage, Lyft argues. Ride-sharing company Juno has filed a similar lawsuit.

Museum workers fight to unionize

A group of staff members gathered in the lobby of New York City's New Museum on Jan. 11 to network and publicly promote unionization. According to the workers, museum administration has hired a tough consulting firm that is engaging in an unfair anti-union campaign. Unsurprisingly, the New Museum has pushed back with a different narrative. According to a labor organizer at the museum, management is trying to mislead museum employees about the nature and intent of the pro-union campaign.

The workers' bargaining unit reportedly includes 74 members from across all departments. On the day before the gathering, union organizers issued a statement asking the New Museum's board of trustees and management to respect their rights to organize without interference. In response to the union organizers, the New Museum issued a statement saying that it wants its staff to make "a fully informed decision". A tweet posted by a former New Museum employee claimed that lower employees are often forced to work for low wages while being unclear if they would be let go.

Production company subject of labor complaint

Fans of the Amazon series "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" might be interested in learning that the production company behind the show, Picrow Streaming, is facing a labor complaint. The complaint was filed by IATSE Local 52 in New York over some allegedly unfair labor practices during the production of the show.

The series has been highly successful, garnering Emmy Awards and Golden Globes. However, IATSE Local 52 alleges that Picrow Streaming engaged in prohibited labor practices, including making coercive statements and changes to the conditions and terms of the employment of union workers because they engaged in union activities.

Amazon employees officially launch union campaign

After Amazon recently selected Queens as a site to build one of its two new headquarters, many people expressed concerns for a myriad of reasons. One of which was that existing employees in a new Staten Island fulfillment center were already experiencing problematic working conditions.

Now, those employees have officially launched a campaign to unionize. They claim Amazon "treats them like robots" and would rather the company invest in improving their workplace rather than opening a new headquarters while "raking in tax breaks" that the governor offered in the bid to bring headquarters to New York.

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