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What is Collective Bargaining?

The term "collective bargaining" refers to the process by which a group of workers, often as a union, negotiate with their employer on the terms and conditions of their employment.

Let's Make a Deal

Generally speaking, collective bargaining is aimed at making a deal with management that addresses a wide range of concerns in a particular workplace. This type of deal is a labor contract and is often referred to as a "collective bargaining agreement" or CBA.

Examples of topics covered in CBAs include employee wages, hours, benefits, time off, raises, promotions, and disciplinary issues. However, this list is not exhaustive, and CBAs also typically address issues ranging from worker safety to insurance. The nature of subjects laid out in these agreements can also vary depending on the industry or workplace.

CBAs and the Law

Many of the legal issues involving unions are covered by a federal law known as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is the federal agency charged with enforcing U.S. labor law in cases of collective bargaining and unfair labor practices.

In general, under the NLRA, employees have the right to join unions and collectively bargain. However, some types of employers and industries are not covered by the Act. Some examples of these excluded industries include government workers, agricultural laborers, and independent contractors. For those employers and industries to which the Act applies, the NLRA prohibits employers from interfering with or preventing employees from organizing or engaging in activities that relate to organizing or forming a union.

The "Good Faith" Collective Bargaining Requirement

As parties to a collective bargaining process, both the employer and the group of employees are required to exercise what is known as "good faith" in their negotiations. In many reviews that the NLRB has executed, at issue has been whether either party has demonstrated "good faith". Across these reviews, the following have served as some examples of conduct constituting violations of the "good faith" standard:

(1) Refusing to meet and bargain with the opposing party;

(2) Changing the terms of a bargain (or current working conditions) without proper input from the opposing party; and,

(3) Engaging in "sham" negotiations with the opposing party. In this context, sham tends to mean a negotiation where one party attempts to mislead the other party, or where one party actually deceives the other party.

Unions' Duty of Fair Representation

A union is tasked with the responsibility to represent its members in a fair and equal manner, which is referred to as the "duty of fair representation". If you feel that your union has not upheld your rights as a member during collective bargaining processes or at any other time, you might consider seeking relief by filing a complaint against your union with the National Labor Relations Board. If pursuing help from the NLRB fails, it may be time to consult with an attorney specializing in labor law.

The National Labor Relations Board lays out procedure for handling redress of grievances here. In all cases, at the initiation of such an attempt to redress grievances, a "charge" must be filed with the NLRB. In a charge, someone alleges unfair labor practices on the part of their employer or labor organization. The Regional Director of the NLRB reviews the allegations, and then determines whether a formal action is necessary.

Need Legal Help with a Collective Bargaining Issue? Find an Attorney Near You!

Between an employer and a group of employees, it is common for disputes to arise before, during, and after collective bargaining processes. While these disputes may end up in the hands of the NLRB, where claims are investigated and where it is determined whether further proceedings are warranted, labor relations can and may get more complicated. Disputes between employers and their workers may require additional action. Unions usually offer legal representation to their members, but there may be instances where you'll need to find an attorney on your own. Speaking with a labor attorney near you could help you learn more about your rights in collective bargaining processes.

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