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Working with Labor Unions

30 October, 2015 - 16:03

First and foremost, when working witih labor unions, a clear understanding of the contract is imperative for all HR professionals and managers. The contract (also called the collective bargaining agreement) is the guiding document for all decisions relating to employees. All HR professionals and managers should have intimate knowledge of the document and be aware of the components of the contract that can affect dealings with employees. The agreement outlines all requirements of managers and usually outlines how discipline, promotion, and transfers will work.

Because as managers and HR professionals we will be working with members of the union on a daily basis, a positive relationship can not only assist the day-to-day operations but also create an easier bargaining process. Solicitation of input from the union before decisions are made can be one step to creating this positive relationship. Transparent communication is another way to achieve this goal.

In HR, one of the major aspects of working with labor unions is management of the union contract. We discuss the grievance process in Administration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement .

How Would You Handle This?

Union Busting

The employees in your organization are unhappy with several aspects of their job, including pay. You have tried to solve this issue by creating new compensation plans, but with no avail. You hear talk of unionizing. When you bring this issue to your CEO, she vehemently opposes unions and tells you to let the employees know that if they choose to unionize, they will all lose their jobs. Knowing the CEO’s threat is illegal, and knowing you may lose your job if the workers decide to unionize, how would you handle this?

How Would You Handle This?

The author discusses the How Would You Handle This situation in this chapter at:

Key Takeaways

  • A union has two goals: to add new members and to collect dues. A check-off provision of a contract compels the organization to take union dues out of the paycheck of union members.
  • In a union shop, people must join the union within a specified time period after joining the organization. This is illegal in right-to-work states. An agency shop is one where union membership is not required but union dues are still required to be paid. This may also be illegal in right-to-work states.
  • Made illegal by the Taft-Hartley Act, a closed shop allows only union members to apply and be hired for a job.
  • Collective bargaining is the process of negotiating the contact with union representatives. Collective bargaining, to be legal, must always be done in good faith.
  • There are three categories of collective bargaining issues. Mandatory issues might include pay and benefits. Permissive bargaining items may include things such as drug testing or the required equipment the organization must supply to employees. Illegal issues are those things that cannot be discussed, which can include issues that could be considered discriminatory.
  • The collective bargaining process can take time. Both parties prepare for the process by gathering information and reviewing the old contract. They then set time lines for the bargaining and reveal their wants and negotiate those wants. Abargaining impasse occurs when members cannot come to an agreement.
  • When a bargaining impasse occurs, a strike or lockout of workers can occur. Aneconomic strike occurs during negotiations, while an unfair labor practices strikecan occur anytime, and during negotiations. A sick-out can also be used, when workers call in sick for the day. These strategies can be used to encourage the other side to agree to collective bargaining terms.
  • Some tips for working with unions include knowing and following the contract, involving unions in company decisions, and communicating with transparency.


  1. Research negotiation techniques, then list and describe the options. Which do you think would work best when negotiating with unions?
  2. Of the list of bargaining issues, which would be most important to you and why?