What Is Collective Bargaining? - Definition & Process

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 1:52 Basic Rules of…
  • 3:08 Example of Collective…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Collective bargaining is a vital process in labor-management relationships in the United States. In this lesson, you will learn what collective bargaining is and be given a general outline of its process. A short quiz will follow the lesson.

Definition of Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining is the process by which a labor union and employer negotiate over the terms of the employment relationship. The primary goal of collective bargaining is the achievement of a collective bargaining agreement between the union and employer. A typical bargaining agreement will contain the general terms governing the employment relationship, including, but not limited to, wages, benefits, hours, promotion, and grievance procedures.

While the union and employer can enter into a voluntary agreement on many matters, there are limitations according to federal and state law. First, a collective bargaining agreement can't establish any right, duty, or circumstance that is otherwise illegal. For example, a union and employer cannot bargain away employees' rights under the Civil Rights Act. Second, the agreement can't waive rights or obligations that the law opposes on either party. For example, a union cannot waive an employer's obligations under federal and state occupational safety laws. Third, if an agreement can't be reached, the law permits both parties to engage in legal tactics to pressure the other side to reach an agreement. Examples of tactics that may be used are lockouts and strikes.

A bargaining unit is a group of employees that is represented by the union in negotiations with the employer. A majority of employees in the bargaining unit must agree on the representative as their sole and exclusive representative in negotiations with the employer. Non-union employees will be bound by the collective bargaining agreement.

The National Labor Relations Act is the federal law that gives unions the right to collectively bargain. The Act also created the National Labor Relations Board, which is authorized to enforce the right to collectively bargain.

Basic Rules of Collective Bargaining

Generally, employers and unions are subject to the following rules when engaging in collective bargaining:

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