Servers at Famous New York City Restaurant Vote to Unionize

Times SquareEmployees in the U.S. have the right to organize themselves as a union or to join an existing labor union in order to negotiate with their employers regarding working conditions and various other features of employment. At the federal level, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., secures these rights and prohibits interference by employers. Laws vary from state to state, however, regarding whether union membership may be made mandatory. “Right-to-work” laws in many states allow employees to elect not to join the union, while other states allow employers and unions to enter into “union security agreements.” Neither New Jersey nor New York has right-to-work laws. A well-known restaurant in Manhattan’s Times Square offers a recent example of how labor organizing can work. Amid multiple complaints and allegations of poor working conditions, 50 restaurant employees recently announced that they had voted to form a union.

The NLRA protects workers’ rights “to self-organization,” to form their own labor organization or to join an existing one, to choose representatives to engage in collective bargaining with their employer, and to “engage in other concerted activities” directed toward these purposes. 29 U.S.C. § 157. Employers are prohibited from interfering with or restraining employees in the exercise of these rights. Id. at § 158(a)(1). The law also prohibits various coercive acts by employers and labor unions, and it protects the rights of workers engaged in strikes or other activities authorized by their union. It leaves certain matters, however, up to the states.

Right-to-work laws state that workers may not be required to join a union. The NLRA allows union security agreements between unions and employers, which may place certain obligations on employees. Federal law does not allow “closed shops,” in which the employer can only hire union members. “Union shops,” in which employees must join the union after being hired, are allowed under the NLRA but are prohibited by right-to-work laws.

The principal argument in favor of right-to-work laws is simply that individual workers should have the right to decide whether or not to join the union. The main argument in favor of allowing union security agreements is that they are necessary to address the “free rider” problem—employees who do not join the union still benefit from the union’s activities, so they should be required to contribute to the union through membership or other fees.

The Times Square restaurant mentioned earlier primarily caters to tourists and features servers who are also singers and performers. Between delivering customers’ food, they belt out Broadway and pop hits. In early 2016, however, multiple servers reportedly began meeting to discuss working conditions at the restaurant. For months, they stated, management had subjected them to sexual harassment and other demeaning treatment, threatened their current or prospective music careers, and ignored various safety issues. The restaurant owner denies all of the servers’ claims. The servers announced on August 26 that they had formed a union associated with the Industrial Workers of the World, an international labor union founded in 1905.

If you need to speak with a civil rights attorney about a matter in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New York City Mayor Issues Executive Order Regarding Union Organizing, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 22, 2016

Deadlocked Supreme Court Affirms Appellate Court Ruling on Public Sector Union Dues, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, June 10, 2016

Digital Journalists in New York Vote to Unionize, Face Opposition from Publication, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, November 12, 2015

Photo credit: Francisco Diez from New Jersey, USA (Times Square, NYC) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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