Easier unionization rule blocked; enforced DEI training ‘violates religious freedoms’

In this week's round-up of HR news catching our eye: NLRB rule making it easier to unionize is blocked; enforced DEI training could violate religious freedom; while more jobs are going to immigrants

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Mar 14, 2024
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Judge blocks NLRB rule making it easier to unionize…

A judge in Texas has blocked a new rule – due to go into effect this week – that would have made it easier for millions of workers to form unions. The new National Labor Relations Board ruling would have expanded the definition of who is a ‘joint employer’. Currently, this term is not clear, meaning (for example), that McDonalds isn’t currently classed as being a joint employer alongside its franchisees, even though it is McDonald’s that sets a whole range of terms of conditions for these staff, including wages and benefits, hours and scheduling, the assignment of duties, work rules and hiring. The NLRB claimed a change was necessary, because current rules make it too easy for companies to avoid their legal responsibility to bargain with workers. But, The US Chamber of Commerce and other business groups — including the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the International Franchise Association and the National Retail Federation — sued the NLRB in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas in November to block the rule. They argued the new rule would upend years of precedent and could make companies liable for workers they don’t employ at workplaces they don’t own. In his decision last Friday, US District Court Judge J. Campbell Barker concluded that the NLRB’s new rule would be “contrary to law” and that it was “arbitrary and capricious” in regard to how it would change the existing rule.

as 600 workers create largest video game union

A group of around 600 workers at Activision Publishing – maker of the ‘Call of Duty’ video game, have formed what is believed to be the largest video game industry union. The quality assurance workers were backed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which helped to negotiate the first unionization agreement with Microsoft after it acquired Activision Blizzard last October. Under the terms of the agreement, all Activision Blizzard workers became free to discuss and begin working towards unionizing. As an independent company, Activision Blizzard had pushed back against attempts employees to organize, but Microsoft has always agreed to remain neutral on the matter. The new QA workers’ bargaining unit has Activision employees in California, Texas, and Minnesota. The CWA now represents more than 1,000 video game workers at Microsoft. The unionization comes as computer games employees have been hit particularly hard by layoffs in recent months. Figures suggest more than 8,000 games industry workers have been laid off in the first two months of this year. Microsoft has actually been one of the biggest contributors to this, laying off 1,900 employees in January – and most of them from its Activision Blizzard teams. Amy Pannoni, VP and deputy general counsel of human resources legal at Microsoft, said: “We maintained our commitment to remain neutral during the organizing campaign, and following this vote, we recognize the Communications Workers of America (CWA) as the bargaining representative for the Activision Publishing Central Quality Assurance employees. We look forward to continuing our positive labor management relationship.”

Enforced DEI training could violate people’s religious freedom

Companies that insist on staff taking DEI training could be violating their right to religious freedom, according to a prominent religious liberties judge. Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at the religious freedom law firm, First Liberty, claims DEI training forces an ideology onto people and/or makes them less able to live out their own faith. In an interview at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention he said: “A lot of people have genuine religious beliefs that oppose being indoctrinated under those topics.” The comments come on the back of First Liberty representing Postal worker Gerald Groff, who sought the ability to take Sundays off to observe the Sabbath day. The US Postal Service initially denied him that exemption, in part due to a previous ruling – TWA v. Hardison. But the Supreme Court then ruled in Groff’s favor. Dys said: “Now, we recognize that your religious beliefs are at least as important as your job…We’ve undone terrible decisions, but now it falls to everyday Americans to actually go out there and take advantage of those freedoms.” Dys added: “Unfortunately, we’ve kind of fallen sort of under a spell of not-religious freedom.”

February is yet another healthy month for hiring…

Hot on the heels of the larger-than-expected rise in employment in January, new figures released reveal a further 275,000 jobs were added to the US economy in February. Last month’s job growth marked an increase from a revised gain of 229,000 jobs in January. Commentators suggest the figures reflect the job market’s sustained ability to withstand the 11 rate hikes by the Federal Bank, which have made it more expensive for employers to invest. However, against this rise in jobs is the fact that the unemployment rate ticked up two-tenths of a point in February, to 3.9%. Despite being the 25th month in a row where unemployment has been under 4%, some suggest the joblessness rate could soon cross the 4% level. The data also shows average hourly wages rose by just 0.1% from January (up 4.3% from a year earlier), while consumer prices in January were up just 3.1% from a year earlier – significantly less than the 9.1% in 2022. Last year, foreign-born individuals accounted for 62%, or 1.5 million, of the 2.4 million people who either obtained a job or began looking for one.

…but more jobs are going to immigrants

Despite President’s Biden’s March 7 ‘State of the Nation’ claim that the country is creating ‘American jobs,’ new data from The Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) database shows that Between January and February of 2024, more than 1.1 million workers born outside the United States gained jobs. By contrast, native-born Americans were job losers over that period, with the employment level falling by roughly 500,000. FRED data also show that fewer native-born Americans are employed today than were employed in February 2020, shortly before the Covid19 pandemic cratered the economy – 130.3 million then as compared with 129.3 million today. Immigrant employment has surged over that same period, from 27.7 million in February 2020 to 31 million in February 2024. This data comes not long after it was revealed (in October 2023), both the raw number (49.5 million) and relative proportion (15%) of foreign-born Americans hit record highs.

AI puts job security fears through the roof

According to the results of a new survey by Authority Hacker, job insecurity continues to rise because of artificial intelligence. In its poll of 1,200 workers, 54.58% of full-time workers said they have increased concerns about their job security. The data find men (62.87%) are more likely than women (47.53%) to fear for their job security, while (counter-intuitively), the ‘more’ people earn the more they worry. It found those making $150,000 or more worry the most about their job security (72.48%), while those making $50,000 or less worry the least (50.26%). It is normally assumed that the more people earn, the more they develop skills (like critical thinking and experience), that AI can’t compete with. However, the data shows a spike of entry-level employees also worrying about their jobs going too, with 62.2% of 25 to 44 year-olds worrying about becoming obsolete versus less than 50% of those over the age of 45 being worried. SME employees however, worry less. Authority Hacker found that 74.33% of those at companies employing between 500 and 1,000 workers worry about their job security, while only 45.38% of workers at companies with 25 or fewer employees worry about their job security. Those most fearful of losing their jobs to AI are IT services and data professionals (89.6%); followed by software developers (74.4%) and advertising professionals (70%).

Boeing whistleblower found dead

John Barnett, a former Boeing employee of 32 years, who recently raised concerns about the company’s production standards, has been found dead, in an apparent suicide. Barnett had spoken to numerous media outlets following a Jan. 5 incident on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane, when a panel blew out while the flight was in mid-air. Following these accusations, airline is now facing multiple government investigations, with the company now needing to make “a serious transformation” around its safety and manufacturing quality, according to US Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg. According to the Charleston County coroner’s office in South Carolina, the 62-year-old died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Charleston City Police are investigating the matter, the coroner’s office also said, without giving any other details. From 2010, Barnett worked as a quality manager at the North Charleston plant building the 787 Dreamliner – a state-of-the-art airliner used mainly on long-haul routes. As early as 2017, Barnett began accusing Boeing of pressuring workers to fit sub-standard parts on its production line. This is something the company has denied.


This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.