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Collective Bargaining: What You Need to Know

Many people throughout the United States are members of labor unions that aim to protect worker rights and interests. A major function of these unions is to negotiate, or bargain, with employers on behalf of their members.

When a workforce is unionized, the terms of their employment are typically established by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). This CBA is negotiated between the union and the employer. Most CBAs set standards for working conditions, salaries and other benefits employees may receive. If a CBA expires, both the union and employer are generally required to continue negotiating in good faith until a new one is reached. In most cases, the terms of the old CBA are in effect until a new one takes effect.

CBAs Under the Law

Unions and management must work in good faith to create reasonable CBAs. When negotiating a new CBA, employers and unions must bargain over mandatory subjects such as wages and hours. A CBA does not give an employer the right to reduce safety standards or take any other action that would violate OSHA regulations or any state or federal employment law.

States may also set up their own quasi-judicial boards to oversee the negotiations of public employee contracts within their borders. For instance, California has a Public Employment Relations Board that is tasked with ensuring that state collective bargaining laws are followed.

States may also pass laws that determine whether or not a person has to be part of a union. These are referred to as “right-to-work” laws. In right-to-work states, those who opt not to join a union or pay dues can still be covered under whatever terms were bargained for on their behalf. There are currently 28 states that have right-to-work laws banning union security agreements between employers and workers' unions.

Unions Duty of Fair Representation

As a general rule, a union must represent each of its members in a fair and consistent manner. They are not allowed to discriminate against a person for any reason. Furthermore, unions cannot handle cases that an employer may pursue on his or her own. For instance, a worker can generally file a workers' compensation claim without union assistance. However, unions are allowed to discipline their members for not conforming to its rules where allowed by law.

When Collective Bargaining Fails

While a union and employer must bargain in good faith, they are not obligated to come to an agreement on mandatory or other issues. If there is a belief that the two sides will not come to an agreement, there is said to be an impasse. At this point, an employer may unilaterally implement any terms that it offered to the union.

However, if an employer declares an impasse, it may be possible for the union to dispute that one has been reached. This may result in both sides presenting their case to the National Labor Relations Board for a ruling.

If the National Labor Relations Board rules that an impasse has been reached, employers may impose their last offer to the union. If the NLRB rules for the union, negotiations must continue. Depending on the circumstances of a case, a court may be asked to rule on the matter.

Union members who believe that their rights have been violated at work may wish to talk to their union representative. It could also be beneficial to talk with an attorney who can explain and defend employee rights.

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