Unionization and Workers’ Rights in 2024

As has already been discussed in this blog, 2023 saw a record-breaking amount of union activity across the United States.  Strikes by large, high-profile unions representing the United Auto Workers, UPS workers, the teamsters, and writers and actors as well as smaller, lower-profile unions all resulted in gains for workers.

One would think that these wins would translate into an increase in the percentage of unionized workers in the United States, but studies are not yet showing that increase.  In fact, overall union membership dropped in 2023 from 10.1% to 10%.  See https://www.jacksonlewis.com/insights/top-five-labor-law-developments-january-2024. 

Experts suggest a large influx of workers into the economy increased the overall worker population and diluted any specific increases in a unionized workforce.  To the extent there are gains in union membership, these gains are more likely to be in workers of color under the age of 45.

It may be that the impact of 2023 union successes hasn’t revealed itself yet.  Further, there were several rulings by the National Labor Relations Board in 2023 that should create a more favorable environment for union organizing and recruitment.  The impact of these rulings may start to be felt this coming year.

Overall, employers should anticipate continued strong union activity across the country and pay attention to their workforce.  Now may be a good time to consult with legal counsel about how employers can legally respond to unionization efforts should they arise.

The rights of temporary workers in New Jersey also took center stage in 2023 with the passage of the New Jersey Temporary Worker Bill of Rights.  In 2024, New Jersey temporary help service firms await greater clarity from the State on the implementation of the new law.

Temporary help service firms and their clients should monitor the development of regulations issued by the State that will interpret and clarify provisions of the law.  They should also watch for updates on the remaining provisions of the law that have not yet gone into effect, particularly provisions regarding temporary help service firm registration.

Stay tuned.     

Unionization Efforts and New York Law

If you follow the news, you have probably heard about the high profile union strikes involving the screen writers and actors and, even more recently, the strike by the United Auto Workers.  In previous blog posts, we have discussed the unionization efforts in Amazon warehouses and Starbucks locations.

There is no question that unionization and union activity has increased in recent years across the United States.  Cornell University maintains a strike database showing that from September 1 of last year until August 31 of this year, unions initiated 70 strikes with 100 or more workers participating for more than a week.  This statistic represents a 40% increase from the same period the year before.

Strikes are not only about increased wages.  When freight railroad workers went on strike, they were looking, in part, for more paid sick leave.  Healthcare workers have struck for increased staffing.  The screen writers and actors are looking for protections against the use of artificial intelligence in the industry. 

Not all recent strikes have met with success, but a majority have. 

What does this mean for employers?  Pay attention to your workforce because the likelihood of union activity is increasing.  Be aware that benefits such as paid sick leave and working conditions may be as important to workers as the amount of their wages.

Understand the options available to you as an employer when there are unionization stirrings in your workforce.  New York State recently passed a law prohibiting employers from refusing to hire, discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee who refuses to attend an employer-sponsored meeting when the primary purpose of the meeting is to communicate “the employer’s opinion concerning religious or political matters.”  The definition of “religious or political matters” specifically includes labor organizations.  In other words, it is now unlawful for employers in New York to hold mandatory meetings in an effort to dissuade employees from organizing or joining a union.  This prohibition also includes requiring employees to listen to a speech or view communications for the purposes of dissuading them from unionizing.

New York is the fourth state to prohibit such meetings, joining Connecticut, Maine and Minnesota. 

For the text of the New York law, visit https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2023/s4982.