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Collective Bargaining: Definition and Labor Relations Legislation

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  • 0:05 The Formation of Unions
  • 1:04 The National Labor…
  • 3:57 Collective Bargaining
  • 5:26 The National Labor…
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

The National Labor Relations Act established the National Labor Relations Board and required employers to use collective bargaining. This lesson explains these labor law concepts.

The Formation of Unions

The early 1900s marked some rough times for American laborers. Workers formed organized groups so that they could bargain for and secure better workplace safety, wages, and hours. These organized groups of laborers were known as unions. During the Industrial Revolution and Great Depression eras, employers weren't known for treating employees with respect and fairness. Union members were especially resented because of their conflicting interests with employers. Employers spied on, interrogated, disciplined, and often fired their union members.

The union members responded by organizing in even greater numbers and creating a wave of sit-down strikes from 1933 through 1934. These resulted in violent confrontations with police, general citywide strikes, and factory takeovers.

The National Labor Relations Act

The National Labor Relations Act, also known as the 'Wagner Act,' is a federal law enacted in 1935. The NLRA is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that serves as the foundation for most of our country's labor law. Many believe the NLRA was enacted in order to ease labor unrest and get America's working-class citizens back to work in the midst of the Great Depression.

In short, the major provisions of the NLRA assure private employees the right to join unions, go on strike, and take part in collective bargaining without retaliation from employers. Let's take a closer look at the three major provisions of the NLRA.

The first major legislative provision is found in Section 7. This section is known as the real heart of the NLRA and gives a considerable amount of power to employees that they didn't have before. It says that employees have the right to:

  1. Form, join, or assist labor organizations. This basically means that employees can unionize, or form organized groups.
  2. Secondly, it says that they can bargain collectively with the employer. We'll talk about this concept a little bit more in a moment, but essentially this means that employees can negotiate with their employers using groups for more clout.
  3. Thirdly, it says that employees can engage in concerted activity. This means that employees can form organized groups to protest, picket, or strike against employers.

The next major legislative provision is Section 8 and outlines unfair labor practices. These are specific acts prohibited by employers under the NLRA or other labor laws. In other words, these are things employers cannot legally do to employees. Employers can't:

  1. Interfere with employees' rights to unionize or bargain collectively
  2. Dominate or contribute to employees' unions
  3. Discriminate against employees because of their union activities
  4. Retaliate against employees because they complained of unfair labor practices or cooperated with an investigation
  5. Refuse to bargain in good faith with unions

Finally, Section 9 vests power in the unions by stating that unions, if certified or recognized, are the exclusive representatives of bargaining unit members. This simply means that, if there's a union, the union is in charge and will do any necessary negotiating on behalf of the members.

Collective Bargaining

Now, let's talk about negotiating. This is the primary reason employees formed unions. The NLRA marked the first time employers were required to use collective bargaining to negotiate with unions. Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation involving representatives of both the employer and the employees. The goal is to give workers a safe way to voice their concerns and opinions.

It's called 'collective' because the opinions of both sides, or the entire group, are considered. The concept is based on fairness and equality. Each side selects representatives, and those representatives negotiate on behalf of the group. There are two types of collective bargaining. The first is periodic bargaining. This type of bargaining occurs at irregular intervals, as problems or needs must be addressed. As a need arises, representatives are selected and the need is addressed.

The second type is continuous bargaining. This is a popular and proactive approach because needs are continuously addressed through the use of various permanent committees. When unions use collective bargaining, the end result is put into a collective bargaining agreement. This is a formal, written contract memorializing the bargaining agreement. The agreement can be drafted and amended just like any other written contract.

The National Labor Relations Board

The NLRA also established the National Labor Relations Board, or the NLRB. This board is an independent federal agency that safeguards employees' rights to organize and unionize and works to remedy unfair labor practices. Generally speaking, the NLRB enforces the rights given to employees through the NLRA. The NLRB gives the NLRA its power.

The NLRB has just two primary functions:

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