Collective Bargaining

Many things have changed over the last 20 to 30 years in American culture. Some of the changes include the advancement of technology and the industry shift from production to service. As history has shown, unequal pay and treatment of employees has transformed employment an unbiased opportunity for the American dream to a dog-eat-dog world.

Many companies believe their employees should be happy with a paycheck at the end of the week, while employees want more than just a paycheck. Thus many new laws and the formation of a Union came forth.

During the 1930s, labor union membership in the United States increased rapidly, aided by the Wagner Act of 1935, which had protected the right of workers to organize and strike. Conservatives cited a coal miners’ strike during World War II and a wave of strikes across many industries after the war as evidence that labor unions had become too powerful and unrestrained.

In 1946 Republicans won control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 1930. Senator Robert A. Taft, Sr. (Republican-Ohio), chair of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, and Representative Fred Hartley, Jr. (Republican-New Jersey), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, sponsored the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 to regulate union activities. Their legislation became known as the Taft-Hartley Act. (Hartman)

Passed over President Harry Trum’s veto, the Taft-Hartley Act allowed states to enact “right to work” laws to outlaw closed shops, companies where only union members could be employed. Taft-Hartley also prohibited jurisdictional strikes, in which different unions struck a company to determine which one would represent its workers, and barred communists from serving as union officers. Taft-Hartley gave Presidents the right to seek a federal court injunction to call off strikes for an 80-day “cooling off” period. This would allow work to continue while management and labor negotiated a contract. Although highly controversial, and strongly opposed by labor unions, the Republican-sponsored Taft-Hartley Act has remained largely unchanged by later Democratic majorities in Congress. (Byars & Rue, 2004, p. 381).

Taft-Hartley Act

Federal law (in full, Labor Management Relations Act) enacted in 1947, which restored to management in unionized industries some of the bargaining power it had lost in pro-union legislation prior to World War II. Taft-Hartley prohibited a union from:

o refusing to bargain in good faith

o coercing employees to join a union

o imposing excessive or discriminatory dues and initiation fees

o forcing employers to hire union workers to perform unneeded or non-existent tasks (a practice known as featherbedding)

o striking to influence a bargaining unit’s choice between two contesting unions (called a jurisdictional strike)

o engaging in secondary boycotts against businesses selling or handling nonunion goods

o engaging in sympathy strikes in support of other unions

Taft-Hartley also

o imposed disclosure requirements to regulate union business dealings and uncover fraud and racketeering

o prohibited unions from directly making contributions to candidates running for federal offices

o authorized the President of the United States to postpone strikes in industries deemed essential to national economic health or national security by declaring an 80-day “cooling-off period”

o permitted states to enact right-to-work laws, which outlaw compulsory unionization.

The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1935 to administer the National Labor Relations Act, the primary law governing relations between unions and employers in the private sector. The statute guarantees the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers, and to engage in other protected concerted activity with or without a union, or to refrain from all such activity. (Byars & Rue, 2004 p. 365).

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), independent agency of the U.S. government created under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (Wagner Act), and amended by the acts of 1947 (Taft-Hartley Labor Act) and 1959 (Landrum-Griffin Act), which affirmed labor’s right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choice or to refrain from such activities. The board consist of five members (appointed by the U.S. President with the approval of the Senate for five-year terms) is assisted by 33 regional directors.

This board determines proper bargaining units, conducts elections for union representation, and investigates charges of unfair labor practices by employers. Unfair practices include interference, coercion, or restraint in labor’s self-organizational rights; interference with the formation of labor unions; encouraging or discouraging membership in a union; and refusal to bargain collectively with a duly chosen employee representative. The NLRB does not have the power to consider cases involving real estate brokers, agricultural employees, domestic workers, family workers, government employees, and church-run schools. (

State laws that make it illegal for labor unions and employers to enter into contracts that provide for a business to employ only union members in the jobs covered by the contract. One typical version of a right-to-work law reads, “No person may be denied employment, and employers may not be denied the right to employ any person, because of that person’s membership or non-membership in any labor organization.” (Hedding) Labor union leaders typically seek the repeal of right-to-work laws because much lower percentages of workers choose to join unions and pay dues in states where such laws are in effect.

Defenders of right-to-work laws tend to argue that workers who refuse to join unions mainly do so because they just do not value the collective bargaining services that unions perform and/or because they disagree with the political causes that unions support with their dues money. Opponents of right-to-work laws tend to see refusal to join a union mainly as attempting to be a free rider that enjoys the very real benefits of union representation without having to pay his fair share of the cost. About 20 US states have some version of such a law presently in effect.

I current live in Arizona, which is a Right to Work state. Often there is confusion as to what that means. Many people believe it means that you can be fired from your job without explanation, and they are, therefore, reluctant to live and work in a Right to Work state. That is not the basis of the Right to Work concept. A Right to Work law guarantees that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, or to pay dues to a labor union. In other words, if you work in a Right to Work state, like Arizona, and the employees form a union, you may not be fired if you decide not to join. Likewise, if you are a member of a union in a Right to Work state, and you decide to resign from the union, you may not be fired for that reason. (Hedding)

Here is how Arizona’s Constitution, article XXV, reads:

“Right to work or employment without membership in labor organization

No person shall be denied the opportunity to obtain or retain employment because of non-membership in a labor organization, nor shall the State or any subdivision thereof, or any corporation, individual or association of any kind enter into any agreement, written or oral, which excludes any person from employment or continuation of employment because of non-membership in a labor organization. (Addition approved election Nov. 5, 1946, eff. Nov. 25, 1946; amended November 30, 1982.)”

Facts About Right to Work

1. If you work primarily in a Right to Work state you have the right to decline joining a union and you cannot be required to pay dues or an agency fee to the union unless you choose to join the union. This includes State or Local Government employees, Public School Teachers and College Professors.

2. If your employment takes place on Federal property, there may be an exception to number (1) above. Check with your specific state.

3. All employees of the Federal Government, including Postal Service employees, by law are guaranteed the right to decline union membership. You cannot be required to pay dues or fees to a union, no matter where you work.

4. Railway and airline employees are not protected by state Right to Work laws.

Proponents of Right to Work laws point to what they say is empirical evidence that Right to Work states (mostly southern and western states) enjoy faster economic and employment growth than non-Right to Work states. (Hedding)

Opponents of Right to Work laws argue that mandatory union membership is necessary to offset the power of big business in a market economy, which is responsible for the decline in real earnings for workers and greater income inequities. They also argue that Right to Work laws give some employees a free ride, by enjoying the benefits of unionization where they work without paying the costs associated with maintaining their employment rights and benefits.

Since the 1940s, twenty-two states (and Guam) have enacted Right to Work laws. They are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Whether or not you agree with Right to Work laws, and whether or not you want to live in a Right to Work state, it is important to recognize that the Right to Work laws are not to be confused with the concept of Employment At Will. According to J. Steven Niznik in his article entitled, Employment at Will, “The Employment at Will doctrine means that employment is voluntary for both employees and employers. As an at-will employee, you may quit your job whenever and for whatever reason you want, usually without consequence. In turn, at-will employers may terminate you whenever and for whatever reason they want, usually without consequence.”

Collective bargaining consists of negotiations between an employer and a group of employees so as to determine the conditions of employment. The result of collective bargaining procedures is a collective agreement. Employees are often represented in bargaining by a union or other labor organization. Collective bargaining is governed by federal and state statutory laws, administrative agency regulations, and judicial decisions. In areas where federal and state law overlap, state laws are preempted.

The NLRA establishes procedures for the selection of a labor organization to represent a unit of employees in collective bargaining. The act prohibits employers from interfering with this selection. The NLRA requires the employer to bargain with the appointed representative of its employees. It does not require either side to agree to a proposal or make concessions but does establish procedural guidelines on good faith bargaining. Proposals, which would violate the NLRA or other laws, may not be subject to collective bargaining. The NLRA also establishes regulations on what tactics (e.g. strikes, lock-outs, picketing) each side may employ to further their bargaining objectives.

State laws further regulate collective bargaining and make collective agreements enforceable under state law. They may also provide guidelines for those employers and employees not covered by the NLRA, such as agricultural laborers. (Cornell)

The role that Human Resource plays in collective bargaining initiatives is defined by the NLRA. The Human Resource representative must bargain with the appointed representative of its employees. The Human Resource representative acts as the voice of the company with the authority to bargain or negotiate with their employees through an appointed representative to keep the company going by avoiding a strike.

Most industries are successful due to collective bargaining while others are not. Identifying those particular industries are easy to identify due to their success in the labor market.

One industry known for heavy collective bargaining is the Auto Industry. The auto industry historically has played a prominent role in American collective bargaining, introducing many now common features — multi-year contracts with cost-of-living adjustment escalators and built-in annual real wage increases, supplementary unemployment benefits, “30 and out” pensions, quality of working life programs, and pattern bargaining. From the early 1980s on, automotive labor relations was again in the forefront in taking actions to modify this long-established model, under pressure from both foreign and domestic competitors and from new production methods often linked to team working and related innovative human resource practices.

Another industry is the Food and Service. Plagued by problems of low wages, high cost of health care and bad working conditions, the United Food and Commercial Workers are using collective bargaining to change these conditions. Better wages, lower cost health care with the employer paying more of the amount and other bargaining might be a renewed interest in Unionization amongst other industries.

A third industry is the United Steelworkers industry. The industry has been short changed with unfair trade, retirement and benefits, healthcare, and job security. The Steelworkers industry has a great collective bargaining setup to negotiate and bargaining with their employers and the Federal Government. Recently the USW signed an agreement that would provide higher pay increases over the next three years, plus more money put aside for retirement and lower health cost for the employees and family. The USW is highly involved with collective bargaining for their employees.

I currently work in a Call Center providing financial information. Unionization in a Call Center would be hard to accomplish. Each call center has a different goal in mind based on the company’s industry. Keeping competitive amongst other call centers in the same industry has proven to keep a Union out while providing the employee with what they desire.

In conclusion, collective bargaining is a successful way for workers to reach their goals concerning accept able wages, hours, and working conditions. It al lows workers to bargain as a team to satisfy their needs. Collective bargaining also allows management to negotiate efficiently with workers by bargaining with them as a group instead of with each one individually. Though traditional bargaining can be negative and adversarial, it does produce collective bargaining agreements between labor and management. Partnership bargaining can lead to increased understanding and trust between labor and management. It is a positive, cooperative approach to collective bargaining that also culminates in contracts between labor and management.


A Glossary of Political Ecomony Terms: Right to Work Laws. Retrieved on May 21, 2007 from the Internet.

Byars, Lloyd L. & Rue, Leslie W. (2004). Human Resource Management (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Cascio, Wayne. (2002). Managing Human Resources (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Collective Bargaining and Labor Arbitration Overview. Retrieved on May 20, 2007 from the Internet.

Judy Hedding, Right to Work: Arizona is a Right to Work State. Retrieved on May 21, 2007 from the Internet.

National Labor Relations Board. Information retrieved on May 21, 2007 from the Internet.

Robert J. Donovan, Conflict and Crisis: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945-1948 (New York: Norton, 1977).

Susan M. Hartmann, Truman and the 80th Congress (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1971)

Source by Steven Phillip Brown