Newsroom Employees in Print and Digital Media Vote to Unionize in New Jersey and Nationwide

Organized labor is arguably responsible for many features of employment that are often taken for granted today. Union membership has decreased considerably over the past few decades for a variety of reasons. Employees in New Jersey are union members at a higher rate than the national average, but union members still only account for less than twenty percent of New Jersey’s workforce. Public sector unions tend to receive a great deal of media attention today, and the most popular historical images of union membership probably involve trades like manufacturing and mining. Recent news coverage, however, has pointed to itself as an important sector for union organizing. Newsrooms at print and digital publications around the country have elected to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. While it is not clear if employees at any New Jersey-based publications have taken this step, it has happened at many publications that reach New Jersey readers.

New Jersey remains generally favorable to labor unions. Federal law protects workers’ rights to organize and engage in “concerted activities” related to organizing, and prohibits employers from interfering with those rights. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 157, 158. It does not, however, prevent states from enacting so-called “right-to-work” laws. At least twenty-six states, not including New Jersey, have enacted such laws. Right-to-work laws prohibit “union security clauses” in collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) between employers and labor unions. A union security clause requires all employees to contribute to the union, either by becoming a member or paying a fee. Without a union security agreement, employees who contribute nothing to the union still benefit from the union’s efforts.

Despite offering a relatively favorable environment for labor unions, not many New Jersey workers are union members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, New Jersey had 630,000 union members in 2017. This accounted for 16.2 percent of all employees in the state. New York had 2,017,000 union members in 2017, or 23.8 percent. Both states saw a decline in union membership since 2007. New York’s number of union members fell by 38,000, while New Jersey’s fell by 118,000.

In February 2019, the publisher of the Hartford Courant newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut agreed to recognize a new union representing its newsroom employees. The new union will have collective bargaining authority for about sixty employees, eighty percent of whom reportedly signed union cards. The same publisher has also recognized unions for publications in Chicago, Los Angeles, and two cities in Virginia. Also in February, journalists at the digital media company BuzzFeed voted to unionize.

This recent organizing activity has occurred amid various business problems in digital publishing. BuzzFeed’s union vote, for example, occurred after the company laid off fifteen percent of its employees. Another digital publisher has been accused of laying off most of its staff in order to break the employees’ union. The print media business is also having difficulties, and some publishers are objecting to employees’ labor organizing efforts. A recent union complaint against a Pittsburgh newspaper, for example, charges that an editor “threaten[ed] employees with shop closure or job loss unless they cease engaging in union or other protected concerted activity.”

The Resnick Law Group’s team of experienced and skilled employment attorneys represent workers in New Jersey and New York, helping them assert their rights in claims under state and federal law. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can assist you, please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Continues to Reject “Right to Work” Laws, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 4, 2018

Proposed Law Would Protect Rights of Workers in the “Gig Economy”, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 13, 2016

State “Right to Work” Law Ruled Unconstitutional, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, June 28, 2016

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