Are You a Legal Professional?


Unions represent groups of employees in certain trades and professions, and engage in "collective bargaining" -- negotiation between an employer and unionized employees in which certain work conditions and terms of employment are decided. Although in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century the power of unions have declined, over the years they have been responsible for many of the employee rights we enjoy today. Some employees, particularly government employees, are still unionized. Below you will find information on unions, rights of union members, and obligations of employers when dealing with represented employees and unionization efforts.

What is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining refers to a situation where a union or other collective group of employees negotiates and communicates with an employer or the management of the employing company on the behalf of the individual workers. Collective bargaining allows the workers to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment as a group, which provides some efficiency and better negotiating power for workers than individual negotiation would provide.

Many issues relating to unions and collective bargaining agreements are regulated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agent that implements the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA protects the right of employees to join a union and collectively bargain, though it also indicates some types of employers and industries that are not protected by the law. Among other obligations the parties in collective bargaining must negotiate in "good faith." Unions themselves have an obligation to represent their members in a fair and equal manner.

Union Member Rights and Officer Responsibilities

The Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) regulates the relationship between union members and officers. The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) enforces the provisions of the LMRDA, though some provisions permit enforcement by union members through lawsuit in federal court.

The Union Member Bill of Rights under the LMRDA provides union members with equal rights to participation in union activities, freedom of speech and assembly, the right to participate in setting union dues, fees, and assessments, the right to sue, and safeguards against improper discipline. Union members are also entitled to copies of collective bargaining agreements. Union members have the right to nominate officers, run for office, cast a secret ballot, and protest the conduct of an election.

Union Officers are responsible for implementing financial safeguards to prevent the embezzlement of union funds and must be bonded to protect against losses. Officers must also file annual financial reports and maintain accurate records including disclosing any loans, benefits, or financial interests between union officers or employees and the businesses that employ the workers they represent.

Officer elections must be held by secret ballot at least every three years. Election records must be maintained for a year and candidates must be permitted to inspect the union membership list once within 30 days prior to the election. Every member must be notified by mail 15 days prior to the election. The union and employer cannot use funds or resources to promote any candidate and the union must comply with a candidate's request to distribute campaign materials. Candidates are permitted to have election observers.

Learn About Unions