Pro Publica: Collective Bargaining, Explained: Why It’s at the Center of Fights Now

March 11, 2011- The term "collective bargaining" has been somewhat ubiquitous lately, as legislators in several states have moved to limit union rights [1]. But while collective bargaining lies at the very heart of what unions do, how it works — especially in the public sector — is not always so straightforward.

What is "collective bargaining"?
Simply put, "collective bargaining" is the process through which employees band together to form a union and negotiate a contract with their boss that lays out certain employment conditions, including things like salaries, benefits, vacation time, work hours, safety conditions and grievance procedures.

Is collective bargaining a "right"?
Sort of.

The United States has officially recognized the right to unionize and bargain collectively since at least 1935, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act [2], a federal law governing the formation of unions and the process of collective bargaining. (The U.N. has also long recognized [3] collective bargaining as a fundamental right for workers [3].)

But the NLRA only applies to private employees. And while federal legislation has since extended certain collective bargaining rights to federal employees [4], state employees remain subject to their individual states' laws.

In the cases of Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Idaho, legislators are seeking to limit the collective-bargaining rights of their state employees


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