In the state of New York, is it legal for a group of volunteers to form a labor union?

If not clearly legal, is there anything that prohibits a labor union of volunteers?

Clarifing edit

I am specifically interested in a labor union, of volunteers supporting web sites. The particular company I wonder about is headquartered in New York, it is SE and we are all the volunteers in question.

  • Two tricky issues here: (1) What counts as a union for purposes of your question? (which is non-obvious and doesn't have one possible right answer, and (2) what do you really mean by "it is legal." It is possible, for example, for a union's existence not to violate any laws, but also not to qualify for special legal treatment restricted to certain kinds of private sector labor unions under the National Labor Relations Act. Is such a union "legal" or not, in the sense of your question.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 20:00
  • Both answers have created a large tail of comments. @James, do you specifically mean the form of labor union indicated in the WIkipedia link, i.e. AFL-CIO members and similar local unions? And considering the Meta Stack Exchange question, do you mean a labor union for a private non-agricultural company?
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 21:00
  • @MSalters I am not entirely sure what I mean, as I don't have solid grasp of all the concepts. I have edited the question to hopefully clarify. Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 11:18

2 Answers 2



The formation of a labor union -- or virtually any other group -- is permitted by the First Amendment, which protects your right to associate with other people and your right "peaceably to assemble."

As a group of volunteers, there would likely be meaningful barriers to its recognition for the purposes of enforcement of collective-bargaining laws. In that case, whatever organization the volunteers are serving would likely not have a duty to negotiate with the union, though it may still choose to do so.

  • 1
    The law specifically leaves out certain groups such as " but shall not include any individual employed as an agricultural laborer, or in the domestic service of any family or person at his home".
    – Putvi
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 19:33
  • 1
    So many great questions! I can tell you're eager to get a basic grasp on constituttional and legal principles, so I'd recommend taking a beginner's-level class on constitutional law. It'll help you sort through all of this.
    – bdb484
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 19:45
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    @Putvi The National Labor Relations Act isn't and isn't meant to be a comprehensive law covering all kinds of collective action through unions or something similar. It also doesn't cover public sector unions or non-employment related unions (e.g. tenant's unions) organized by, e.g., consumers, or self-employed people. It acknowledges and has some provisions for industry scale rather than employer level units (which works better in fields dominated by small firms) but is primarily for unions with single employer local units. Other law govern some non-NLRA unions (e.g. publc sector unions).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 19:53
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    @Putvi Labor laws recognizing unions post-date unions by several decades.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 20:49
  • 3
    @Putvi The point is that an unrecognized union, isn't as a general rule, illegal.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 23:55

No, you can not form a union because a volunteer is not an employee. New York law gives employees the right to form unions. https://www.perb.ny.gov/new-york-state-employment-relations-act/

  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – bdb484
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 19:48
  • 2
    This answer's validity hinges on what counts as a union. Not every organization of people called a union and organized on those principles is a private sector union organized under the National Labor Relations Act (which incidentally even bans certain kinds of unions sponsored by employers).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 19:57
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 20:44

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