New York Labor Law Blog

Newly-formed union for Hearst staff promotes pay and diversity

Staff members employed at Hearst Magazines, a New York-based company that runs 24 media properties, have voted to join the Writers Guild of America East. The new union includes staff members across the two dozen media operations that include Town & Country, Esquire and Cosmopolitan. A statement from union organizers named compensation, transparency, diversity, and editorial standards as the top priorities for the unionized staff.

An editor at Elle Culture said that her staff was eager to join forces with peers and push for a fair and equitable workplace. People working in this industry have been under pressure due to the economic forces that have cut into print advertising and subscription revenue for magazines in general. Mass layoffs or outright closures have become common at media businesses, and workers have been joining unions in increasing numbers in recent years so that they can influence the future of the industry. Unionization has already occurred among staff at Vox Media, BuzzFeed News and HuffPost.

Subway workers protest contract negotiations

In late October, the streets outside of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) headquarters were far from quiet. Manhattan can have its fair share of personality, but this was a different case. Filling the streets were workers from the Transport Workers Union Local 100. They carried signs and they demanded change, seeking a contract that would bolster their way of life. The MTA offered them a contract earlier in the year which they had rejected.

Since then, there has been no follow up contract. As such, the two groups have engaged in gridlock, a stalemate in the process of what unions and employers know as ‘collective bargaining.’ The bargain was not going well, as the MTA wanted to take away benefits that the union believed that they had rightly earned. And those union members gathered in the streets, making the whole scene look like something out of a movie. Question is, will it have a Hollywood ending?

Unions showing renewed strength in recent years

New York residents may have heard that according to a recent Gallup poll, 64% of Americans approve of unions, which is a 16% increase from 2009. In 2018, employees of 20 major companies went on strike, and that was the highest figure since 2007. Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicated that 485,000 workers were involved in the protests that involved both corporations and school districts. In 2019, teachers from the Chicago public school district went on strike to protest their current working conditions.

Teachers in Chicago were inspired by similar action in states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. Educators also went on strike in Los Angeles, which resulted in a 6% salary increase. It also resulted in fewer students per classroom and additional staff being placed in each building. The protesters in Chicago want to see an increase in pay for themselves as well as for classroom aides. They also want to see classroom sizes go down and for additional staff to be added to the city's schools.

Teachers' unions play key role in changing evaluation system

Teachers in New York will see a revised evaluation system after the state's Board of Regents approved a policy that gives local school districts as well as teachers' unions greater influence over the ratings educators receive for their work. It replaces a controversial approach that relied mainly on student growth scores generated by computers and based on a number of metrics, including standardized test scores. The board unanimously approved the change. Under the changed rules, around half of a teacher's evaluation will continue to be linked to standardized test performance by students. The other half of the evaluation will be based on classroom evaluations conducted locally.

Local districts will be allowed to choose the testing criteria that are applied each year. These annual evaluations affect around 190,000 teachers across the state. Teachers' unions as well as local parents had heavily protested the old system. Around 43% of students in two counties were pulled out of state standardized tests by their parents in reaction to the use of testing metrics for teacher evaluation. Both education unions and families said that the focus on test scores put too much pressure on both faculty and students, leading to a detrimental environment for learning.

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.

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