Collective Bargaining Process Overview
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Omri Ben-Ari, Esq. | Last reviewed December 17, 2021
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It's not uncommon for workers and employers to disagree about crucial employment terms and conditions, which can cause conflict in the workplace or threats of strike. Some employees organize together and use union representation to negotiate important labor issues. This article provides a basic overview of the collective bargaining process.
What Is Collective Bargaining?
Frequently, unions or groups of employees work together as a unit to communicate and negotiate common interests with an employer. While organized and unified, workers can be more effective in negotiations than they would otherwise be as individuals. The term "collective bargaining" refers to the process where workers negotiate with an employer about terms and conditions of employment.
The right of labor unions to collectively bargain is guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, commonly known as the Wagner Act. The Wagner Act sets forth a framework for the procedure and practice through which elected officials from a union meet with employers and negotiate employment conditions. One representative is allowed per unit of employees, and employers are also entitled to representation. However, the right to collective bargaining is not extended to all employees. Notably, independent contractors and government employees are not entitled to this process.
Common topics and issues that are addressed collective bargaining include:
- Wages and hours
- Time off
- Working conditions
- Heath coverage, retirement, and other benefits
- Raises and promotions
Those participating in collective bargaining have a duty to do so in good faith. In this context, this typically means refraining from certain behavior, such as refusing to meet and attempt to bargain, engaging in sham or misleading negotiations, or making changes to an agreement without conferring with the other side.
The Collective Bargaining Process
The collective bargaining process begins with some sort of labor disagreement, when a union or group of workers doesn't see eye to eye with an employer on a particular employment issue. The first stage of the process involves preparation, where each side chooses a representative to represent their respective interest in the negotiations.
Next, the parties meet for a discussion. The negotiation process can frequently turn heated and emotionally charged. For that reason, the parties typically agree to certain ground rules before beginning, in order to avoid conflict which could cause the process to fail. Once the specifics of the dispute have been discussed, the parties exchange proposals of options to resolve the dispute. This is followed by the bargaining process, whereby the parties explore various potential compromises.
As the parties get close to reaching an agreement, a tentative written collective bargaining agreement is drafted, revised, and developed as the parties reach a final agreement. Once all terms are firm, the final collective bargaining agreement is reviewed and signed by both parties, and becomes a binding contract.
Benefits of Collective Bargaining
There are many benefits to collective bargaining. Studies have shown that employees who collectively bargain have better working conditions, higher wages, and better benefits packages than employees who don't. It has been found that, when workers are given more of a say in important labor issues, the general stability of the business is increased.
The process also gives a voice to workers and allows their grievances to be heard and acknowledged. The successful collective bargaining process can promote dignity and mutual respect in the workplace. The process, when working correctly, can also help avoid strikes by workers due to a breakdown in the negotiation process.
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