Labor Law & Union Contracts

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Union contracts -- often referred to as collective bargaining agreements -- are agreements between the employer and the union that represents the company's employees. A number of labor and employment laws affect not just the union contract, but the negotiation process as well. Representatives for the labor union and the employer are bound by these rules and, in the best of circumstances, they reach a union contract that employees will approve with confidence.

Union Contract Contents

A collective bargaining agreement, or union contract, sets out guidelines for the employment relationship between a business and its unionized workers. When the U.S. National Labor Relations Board certifies a union as the official representative of union workers, the union and employer hash out a multiyear contract that contains such terms as wages, benefits, pension contributions, scheduling, seniority advantages and other working conditions. In some cases, negotiating a union contract can take weeks and even months, and during that entire time, both parties must comply with labor laws enforced by the NLRB and other federal and state agencies.


Two oft-cited labor laws fundamental to union contracts are the National Labor Relations Act and the Taft-Hartley Act, which the Labor Board enforces. The NLRA protects employees' rights to engage in concerted activity. The Taft-Hartley Act, also called the Labor-Management Relations Act, or LMRA, balances the NLRA; it protects the rights of employees to not engage in concerted activity. However, other federal civil rights and fair employment laws also matter where labor union contracts are concerned.

Civil Rights

A collective bargaining agreement isn't a substitute for and doesn't replace union members' civil rights, such as those protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and other laws enforced by federal and state agencies. Union contracts incorporate all of these laws to ensure that workers are afforded all the protections given to workers who don't have a union contract. In addition to federal laws that are incorporated by reference in union contracts, the parties are bound by state laws, many of which dovetail federal civil rights laws.

Negotiation Process

Section 8(d) of the NLRA doesn't require that the labor union and management reach a union contract. However, it does require the parties to engage in good-faith bargaining. Good-faith bargaining means that neither the labor union nor the employer will invent obstacles to prevent them from sitting across the table negotiate a union contract. In the event they come to an impasse, Section 8(d)(3) of the NLRA requires the parties to notify the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service about a dispute that makes reaching a union contract impossible. The FMCS then helps labor unions and management iron out their differences so they can resume fruitful contract negotiations.

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