Collective bargaining

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Collective bargaining is a process of negotiations between employers and a group of employees aimed at reaching agreements to regulate working conditions. The interests of the employees are commonly presented by representatives of a trade union to which the employees belong. The collective agreements reached by these negotiations usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms, and rights to participate in workplace or company affairs.[1]

The union may negotiate with a single employer (who is typically representing a company's shareholders) or may negotiate with a group of businesses, depending on the country, to reach an industry wide agreement. A collective agreement functions as a labor contract between an employer and one or contract between an employer and one or more unions. Collective bargaining consists of the process of negotiation between representatives of a union and employers (generally represented by management, in some countries such as Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands by an employers' organization) in respect of the terms and conditions of employment of employees, such as wages, hours of work, working conditions, grievance-procedures, and about the rights and responsibilities of trade unions. The parties often refer to the result of the negotiation as a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or as a collective employment agreement (CEA).


Beatrice Webb in 1894

The term "collective bargaining" was first used in the middle of 1891 by economic theorist Beatrice Webb.[2] However, collective negotiations and agreements had existed since the rise of trade unions during the 18th century.

The term collective bargaining itself was coined by the British labor historian Beatrice Webb in 1891 (Hoffer). The National Railway Act and soon after the National Labor Relations Act made it illegal for any employer to deny union rights to an employee. Another step in this direction came in 1962 when president John F Kennedy issued an executive order granting Federal employees the right to unionize and collective bargain. Collective bargaining has even been recognized internationally as a basic human right and in 2007 the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that "The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work. ... Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends ... rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government" (Hoffer).

International protection[edit]

...where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.[1]

Ronald Reagan, Labor Day Speech at Liberty State Park, 1980

The right to collectively bargain is recognized through international human rights conventions. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies the ability to organize trade unions as a fundamental human right.[3] Item 2(a) of the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work defines the "freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining" as an essential right of workers.[4] The Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (C087) and several other conventions specifically protect collective bargaining through the creation of international labour standards that discourages countries from violating worker's rights to associate and collectively bargain. [5]

In June 2007 the Supreme Court of Canada extensively reviewed the rationale for regarding collective bargaining as a human right. In the case of Facilities Subsector Bargaining Association v. British Columbia, the Court made the following observations:

The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work... Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government... Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives.[6]

Empirical findings[edit]

  • Union members and other workers covered by collective agreements get, on average, a wage markup over their nonunionized (or uncovered) counterparts. Such a markup is typically 5 to 10 percent in industrial countries.[7]
  • Unions tend to equalize the income distribution, especially between skilled and unskilled workers.[7]
  • The welfare loss associated with unions is small, and no more than 0.2 to 0.5 of GDP, which is similar to monopolies in product markets.[7]



Continuous bargaining is a method of collective bargaining which retains a permanent, rolling negotiation between management and a permanent committee of union representatives.

Unionization and Collective Bargaining Right in Canada

The evolution of the world has been accompanied by many developments. More specifically, developments have been exceptionally felt in the Canadian labor market. Considering the number of human rights violation cases occur in the work places, Canadian authorities have been awakened to these violations. In response, Canada has sought to adopt various legal techniques, many of that were further exemplified by the Supreme Court of Canada. These judgments were especially remarkable in relation to collective bargaining. These rulings where connected to human rights relations and were aligned with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom (CCRF). Human rights are clearly explained in the CCRF, which acts as the guidepost of all legislation, including those laws about labor. However, one must question whether the actual workers will notice these developments. This paper examines the state of employment relationship with a special focus on unionization and collective bargaining rights has significantly improved, but there are certain areas that need further improvement

In examining the state of human right claims on unionization and collective bargaining rights, it is imperative to review some of the relevant pieces of legislation. The CCRF, most notably Part 1 of the Constitution Act of 1982, stipulates that the rights and freedom of the Canadian citizens should be safeguarded. The law states that everyone has the fundamental right to religion and conscience, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, and the freedom to communicate freely through press and any other media. Additionally, every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, race, gender, age or mental or physical disability (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, section 1). Thus, in Canada, the law provides for the protection of human rights, as all legislation must conform to the CCRF. This supremacy of the CCRF creates the allowance for advocating for necessary judicial review of legislation, which should lead to an equitable employment laws. In other words, the CCRF should entitle workers the freedom for unionization as well as collective bargaining, without any form of subjection to discrimination based on gender, age, race, disability, etc. The CCRF aims to protect workers in regards to job security, the negotiation of work contracts, and overall job conditions. Employees are even allowed to advocate for better working conditions and higher remunerations. For instance, trade unions can represent the issues that directly, and indirectly, affect workers and negotiate on the behalf of workers in seeking resolutions. According to Mathiesen, this allowance implies that workers are free to join trade unions as long as they believe it will be an effective avenue to channel their issues to authorities.

In Dunmore vs. Ontario, the Supreme Court decided against the exclusion of agricultural workers from collective bargaining under the Ontario Labor Relations Act. The court asserted that it was a violation of the CCRF. In its ruling, the court rejected the argument that the exclusion was justified under Section 1 of the CCRF. This is a clear depiction of the CCRF safeguarding workers’ rights. This is especially true because it was based directly on interpretations of the CCRF. The court even went so far as to acknowledge that Canada had lacked a framework for protecting the rights of Farm workers against employer reprisals, a breach of fundamental human rights and freedoms. The Ontario Government eventually went further to enact the Agricultural Employees Protection Act that focused on protecting farm workers against the reprisals of employers. It aligned with section 2d of the CCRF (Dunmore v. Ontario (Attorney General), [2001] 3 S.C.R. 1016, 2001 SCC 94). In the above-mentioned case, the workers were entitled to unionize and evoke collective bargaining rights. However, it is worth noting that this ruling afforded a challenge that resulted in an18-month suspension to establish whether considerations had been included. In my view, such a ruling was so clearly defined that it would not warrant a challenge. The court should have given a shorter period of suspension to avoid delaying justice.

Yet, even disappointing legal decisions followed the enactment of the Labor Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendment Act. This act aimed to replace the Agricultural Employees Protection Act because it was challenged because it failed to put into considerations the rights of the workers in the private sector. The court held that the act was objective and did not violate the stipulations of the CCRF but that its effect did violate the CCRF. Clearly, the replacement of the Agricultural Employees Protection Act with the Labor Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendment Act implied that workers in vulnerable positions were made more vulnerable because they would not be able to exercise their charter rights fully. In Ontario (Attorney General) vs. Fraser, the government enacted the Agricultural Protection Act, which would protect agricultural workers rights to make a collective representation to their employer, but did not entitle collective bargain. The union claimed that the Agricultural Protection Act violated workers freedom and that the act did not provide for the collective bargaining protection stipulated in the Labor Relations Act that was applicable to the majority of Ontario workers. The majority ruled that collective bargain is within the constitution because it accommodates bargaining for work-related issues in good faith. The court also explained the imperativeness of the freedom of association, where the employer and employee meet to have a meaningful dialogue to ensure that everything is discussed fairly. Clearly, this decision can be considered a positive step for workers right and the entitlement to unionize or invoke collective bargain. However, workers were barred from taking part in strikes, which demonstrates a step back from workers rights.

Such a ruling is worthwhile, especially in safeguarding the rights of the labor force in regards to collective bargaining. Of course, there are notable decisions, which are not as favorable to workers’ rights. For instance, the Alberta Human Rights Act 2000 included limited ability to unionize. For example, police and workers at health facilities were not allowed to strike if they had grievances. Instead, these issues had to be addressed through collective bargaining. This was not in line with the CCRF stipulations because the arbitration board, which was charged with settling the cases, was found to be contravening provisions of the CCRF. The Police Officers Collective Bargaining Act, The Labor Relations Act, and Public Employee Act had each curtailed the human rights provision within the CCRF. Thus, this became a positive development that aligned with the stipulations of the charter. Similarly, in Health services and support facilities subsector bargaining sssn v British Columbia (Health Services and Support—Facilities Subcontractor Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia, [2007] SCC 27, [2007] 2 S.C.R. 391), the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to collective bargaining. This decision overturned the previous ruling whose verdict was that the collective bargaining was not guaranteed within the freedom of association rights in the CCRF. The case began when the province of British Columbia created legislation that nullified collective agreements in relation to a provision that protected employees against ‘contracting out’ or ensuring job security. It removed any form of bargaining between employers and unions on issues that dealt with collective bargaining. The unions challenge the legislation because they viewed it as a violation of the freedom of association provided for in the CCRF. In its final verdict, the court ruled that collective bargaining is protected; they overturned previous rulings on the subject, and safeguarded workers’ rights. These rulings recognized collective bargaining as an important human right. Indeed, according to Donnelly (232), most of the previous rulings were not fair to workers since they violated the provisions offered to them by the CCRF and had no job security. In addition, the employers were constantly protected at the expense of their workers because there was no way that workers could openly discuss pressing issues in their employment. The landmark ruling mentioned above restored the provisions of the CCRF dedicated to protecting workers. Luckily, the trade unions continually opposed legislation that denied workers rights provided to them by the CCRF.

In conclusion, of particular interest is the discussion and evaluation of the changes concerning labor laws. This examination asserted the encouraging decisions for 2013 workers and trade unions. Special focus has been directed on unionization and collective bargaining rights. These rights are considered crucial tenets of employment law. It has been observed that a number of positive developments in assuring workers rights and collective bargain have occurred. The courts have demonstrated a practical understanding of the challenges faced by those who want to enter into an employment relationship by often deciding in favor of workers and in accordance with the stipulations of the CCRF. This has been evidenced the mentioned cases However, these are not completely adequate. The plight of workers in the private sector is yet to be well addressed, as exhibited by the legal fracas that followed the replacement of the Agricultural Employees Protection Act with the Labor Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendment Act. The latter excluded the needs of the workers in the private sector. In this regard, there is more work needed to safeguard labor rights. Canada needs to focus more on implementation issues to ensure that the interests of the workers are actually respected. In this regard, there is also a need to safeguard worker rights and ensure that all CCRF provisions are followed completely. Employers should be the forerunners in ensuring that workers are given equal treatment and their grievances are handled fairly. Providing a suitable working environment will be a motivation for workers and will produce more effective workers. Accordingly, Mangan (53) recommends that it is imperative for the government to create legislation that is bound to mutual benefits for employers and employees. Tough measures should be taken against organizations that violate human rights and the government must condemn the violation of human rights with the strongest consequences possible against violations. The commission of human rights should be given the necessary support by different organizations that are in direct contact with workers. Similarly, workers who feel that their rights are not being respected should report these instances so that investigations can be carried out and dispute resolution can be completed. In particular, emphasis should be directed to the private sector to ensure that the workers in the private sector are included in any future legislative actions.

United States[edit]

In the United States, the National Labor Relations Act (1935) covers most collective agreements in the private sector. This act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate, spy on, harass, or terminate the employment of workers because of their union membership or to retaliate against them for engaging in organizing campaigns or other "concerted activities," to form company unions, or to refuse to engage in collective bargaining with the union that represents their employees. It is also illegal to require any employee to join a union as a condition of employment.[8] Unions are also exempt from antitrust law in the hope that members may collectively fix a higher price for their labor.

At a workplace where a majority of workers have voted for union representation, a committee of employees and union representatives negotiate a contract with the management regarding wages, hours, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment, such as protection from termination of employment without just cause. Individual negotiation is prohibited. Once the workers' committee and management have agreed on a contract, it is then put to a vote of all workers at the workplace. If approved, the contract is usually in force for a fixed term of years, and when that term is up, it is then renegotiated between employees and management. Sometimes there are disputes over the union contract; this particularly occurs in cases of workers fired without just cause in a union workplace. These then go to arbitration, which is similar to an informal court hearing; a neutral arbitrator then rules whether the termination or other contract breach is extant, and if it is, orders that it be corrected.

In 28 U.S. states,[9] employees who are working in a unionized shop may be required to contribute towards the cost of representation (such as at disciplinary hearings) if their fellow employees have negotiated a union security clause in their contract with management. Dues usually vary, but are generally 1-2% of pay. Some states, especially in the south-central and south-eastern region of the U.S., have outlawed union security clauses; this can cause controversy, as it allows some net beneficiaries of the union contract to avoid paying their portion of the costs of contract negotiation. Regardless of state, the Supreme Court has held that the Act prevents a person's union dues from being used without consent to fund political causes that may be opposed to the individual's personal politics. Instead, in states where union security clauses are permitted, such dissenters may elect to pay only the proportion of dues which go directly toward representation of workers.[10]

The industrial revolution brought a swell of labor organizing in the US.[citation needed] The American Federation of Labor was formed in 1886, providing unprecedented bargaining powers for a variety of workers.[11] The Railway Labor Act (1926) required employers to bargain collectively with unions.

In 1931, the Supreme Court, in the case of Texas & N.O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, upheld the act's prohibition of employer interference in the selection of bargaining representatives.[11] In 1962, President Kennedy signed an executive order giving public-employee unions the right to collectively bargain with federal government agencies.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BLS Information". Glossary. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Division of Information Services. February 28, 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  2. ^ "A Timeline of Events in Modern American Labor Relations". Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (United States). Retrieved 2010-08-18. "1891: The term “collective bargaining” is first used by Beatrice Webb, a British labor historian." 
  3. ^ United Nations General Assembly (1948). "Article 23". Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Paris. Retrieved August 29, 2007.
  4. ^ International Labour Organization (1998). Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. 86th Session: Geneva. Retrieved August 29, 2007.
  5. ^ "C087 - Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87)". International Labour Organization. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  6. ^ Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia [2007] SCC 27.
  7. ^ a b c Toke Aidt and Zafiris Tzannatos (2002). "Unions and Collective Bargaining". 
  8. ^ "Can I be required to be a union member or pay dues to a union?". National Right To Work. Retrieved 2011-08-27. 
  9. ^ Barro, Robert (28 February 2011). "Unions vs. the Right to Work". The Wall Street Journal. 
  10. ^ "Communications Workers of America v. Beck". Retrieved 2011-08-27. , 487 U.S. 735.
  11. ^ a b c Illinois Labor History Society. A Curriculum of United States Labor History for Teachers. Online at the Illinois Labor History Society. Retrieved on August 29, 2007.


  • Buidens, Wayne, and others. "Collective Gaining: A Bargaining Alternative." Phi Delta Kappan 63 (1981): 244-245.
  • DeGennaro, William, and Kay Michelfeld. "Joint Committees Take the Rancor out of Bargaining with Our Teachers." The American School Board Journal 173 (1986): 38-39.
  • Herman, Jerry J. "With Collaborative Bargaining, You Work with the Union--Not Against It." The American School Board Journal 172 (1985): 41-42, 47.
  • Huber, Joe; and Jay Hennies. "Fix on These Five Guiding Lights, and Emerge from the Bargaining Fog." The American School Board Journal 174 (1987): 31.
  • Liontos, Demetri. Collaborative Bargaining: Case Studies and Recommendations. Eugene: Oregon School Study Council, University of Oregon, September 1987. OSSC Bulletin Series. 27 pages. ED number not yet assigned.
  • McMahon, Dennis O. "Getting to Yes." Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Association of School Administrators, New Orleans, LA, February 20–23, 1987. ED 280 188.
  • Namit, Chuck; and Larry Swift. "Prescription for Labor Pains: Combine Bargaining with Problem Solving." The American School Board Journal 174 (1987): 24.
  • Nyland, Larry. "Win/Win Bargaining Takes Perseverance." The Executive Educator 9 (1987): 24.
  • O'Sullivan, Arthur; Sheffrin, Steven M. (2003) [January 2002]. Economics: Principles in Action. The Wall Street Journal: Classroom Edition (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458: Pearson Prentice Hall: Addison Wesley Longman. p. 223. ISBN 0-13-063085-3. Retrieved May 3, 2009. 
  • Smith, Patricia; and Russell Baker. "An Alternative Form of Collective Bargaining." Phi Delta Kappan 67 (1986): 605-607.

Alberta Human Rights Act, RSA 2000, c A-25

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Donnelly, Jack. “Cultural and Universal Human Right”. Human Right Quarterly 6(1984): 400-419

Dunmore v. Ontario (Attorney General), [2001] 3 S.C.R. 1016, 2001 SCC 94

Health Services and Support—Facilities Subcontractor Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia, [2007] SCC 27, [2007] 2 S.C.R. 391

Mathiesen, Kay. “labor laws on unionization and collective bargaining — comparative study”. Journal of information Ethics. 3(2009):245-567. Print.

Sitati, Ezekiel. “Examining the development sin the labor laws”. Melbournes Journal of politic 3(2009):55-74. Print Ontario (Attorney General) v. Fraser, 2011 SCC 20

Reference Re Public Service Employee Relations Act (Alberta), [1987] 1 S.C.R. 313

External links[edit]