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.
Digital outlets including Salon and Vice Media have unionized recently, but union membership across the country continues to fall. Unions negotiate for higher wages and safer working conditions, and 20% of American workers were represented by one as recently as 1983. That number has since fallen to just 10.5%. The decline is largely the result of laws passed in many states that allow workers in unionized workplaces to choose not to join.
Labor unions can play an important role in the workplace, but the laws governing them are strict. Attorneys with labor law experience could help unions to draft collective bargaining agreements and provide assistance during government investigations and audits or when grievances are mediated or arbitrated.