New York Labor Law Blog

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.

3 ways collective bargaining benefits union workers

When it comes to unions, collective bargaining agreements (CBA) with employers are a key component of the relationship. The agreement is literally a contract between the employer and the employees, safeguarding interests to both that may not be guaranteed otherwise.

As a union member, the benefits CBAs provide are worth noting. Even if you are not part of a union you and your co-workers may be able to use your leverage to ensure a number of such benefits as:

Health insurance bill exempts collectively bargained changes

Collective bargaining can be an important part of ensuring and improving healthcare benefits for workers in New York. This is one reason why a bill being considered by the state legislator exempted collectively bargained changes from a regulation that would prevent insurance companies from changing their prescription formularies during a plan year. These formularies lay out which medications are covered and the out-of-pocket costs that go along with them under a specific insurance plan. The bill aims to stop insurance companies from suddenly ending coverage for or changing the price of a specific medication in the middle of the year when members are already locked into their plans.

Patients, especially those with chronic or severe illnesses, have found themselves facing sudden upswings in cost when a medication is removed from the formulary. This is especially true for newer, in-patent medications that may be necessary to control pain or even support life. When these changes happen in the middle of the plan year, patients have no opportunity to seek out different coverage. This is one reason union representation can be so important in determining employee health benefits as issues like formulary changes can be dealt with as part of a collective process that protects workers' rights.

Court decision upholds farmworkers' union rights

Farmworkers in New York have won an important victory in an appellate court, upholding their right to form unions. The Appellate Division of the state's Supreme Court ruled that farmworkers, like all other workers in New York, have the right to unionize, rejecting an exemption in state law that excluded agricultural employees from collective bargaining rights. The court ruled that this exemption was unconstitutional. Workers' rights advocates hailed the decision, saying that it was critical to protecting farmworkers' rights and dignity on the job.

The case was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, representing a dairy worker who was fired from his job for attempting to form a union. The case sought a change in state law and a declaration that the exemption violated the New York constitution. While New York's Democratic governor declined to defend the state law in court, the Farm Bureau stepped in to present a defense to the exclusion of farmworkers from collective bargaining rights. Advocates noted that while many farmworkers may choose to work long hours to accumulate pay during the months with the heaviest work, many agricultural laborers are mistreated on the job.

A basic overview of how unions work

Many New York workers have the right to form or participate in a union. They are designed to protect the rights of its members, and collective bargaining is governed by the National Labor Relations Act. The unions themselves are overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Working conditions are determined by the terms of deals bargained between the labor union and management. Those terms are what each side will turn to first for guidance if a dispute arises.

Collective bargaining agreements can cover a variety of workplace issues such as how much workers will be paid or what benefits they will receive. It can also cover general workplace conditions and the type of health and safety standards employers will be held to. The NLRA states that management is only allowed to negotiate with the representative chosen by the workers.

Unions experience divided loyalties in the wake of #MeToo

New York’s unions have a proud history of combatting social injustice. They give employees the strength to stand up against unsafe or unfair practices, including wrongful termination. But in the wake of the #MeToo movement, more unions are finding their loyalties pulled in two competing directions.

A recent article by The New York Times highlighted the matter. Even as the #MeToo movement has encouraged more victims of sexual harassment to report, it has prompted many employers to respond swiftly and aggressively against perpetrators. Their responses are sometimes out of line, but when unions speak against the employers’ use of discipline, they can appear as though they’re dismissing the victims. This is especially troubling when the victims may be union members too.

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