Collective bargaining is the process by which employees, through union representatives, negotiate with employers about the standards of employment. Collective bargaining agreements are contracts that are formed between the employer and the employees as a collective group, and have the legal protections provided to contracts. Breaking the agreement carries with it consequences which the agreement specifies. Collective bargaining agreements last for a period of time specified in the agreement, and so long as the employees continue to support the union, employers and the union are obligated to bargain again over the terms of the agreement.
The Right to Bargain
Collective bargaining is a right enshrined in federal law with the National Labor Relations Act. Section 7 of the Act states that;
Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment…
So long as employees are in agreement as to who represents them, their union can engage in collective bargaining with their employer on the terms of employment, such as wages, hours, working conditions, limitations on strikes, union rights and responsibilities, employer rights and responsibilities, etc. An employer cannot interfere with the right of the employees to collectively bargain, and violations are enforceable by the National Labor Relations Board and potentially litigation.
Example of a Collective Bargaining Agreement
Let’s say a clothing store’s employees decide that they want to collectively bargain for 40-hour weeks and two dollar an hour wage increases for employees every year they work for the company. They bring their demands to their employer, and their employer says that they cannot afford to have all employees work 40 hours, nor do they have enough for a two dollar an hour raise. Instead, the employer counters with 24 hours a week minimum for employees and a $0.50 wage increase every two years worked. The employees reject this offer, and counter with a 32-hour week and a $1.00 an hour wage increase, but add in a no-strike agreement. The employer agrees, and employees and employer draft a collective bargaining agreement that stipulates over the three-year period, employees are guaranteed a 32 hour week and a $1.00 an hour wage increase for every year an employee works. After that three year period is up, the parties must then re-negotiate to come to another collective bargaining agreement.