Where the Right to Bargain Comes From

It’s easy to forget that that the policy of the United States is to encourage “the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.”  (National Labor Relations Act, Foreword)

The reason why is simple:  the federal government regulates free commerce, and it believes that collective bargaining is a useful tool to reduce obstacles to commerce.  Thomas Perez, current U.S. Secretary of Labor calls collective bargaining, “a cornerstone of a free society and indispensable to a strong middle class.”

The right to collectively bargain for most workers in the private sector rests on a handful of words contained in the National Labor Relations Act:

. . . the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, [] but such obligation does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession. . . . NLRA §8(d)

“Bargaining in good faith” requires parties to do just that – meet at reasonable times, discuss wages, hours, and other terms or conditions of employment.  The law also requires that parties share requested information related to the subjects of bargaining.

Similar rights extend to many workers in the public sector who work for governmental institutions.  Those rights might be based on state or local laws, and there are often limits to the issues those unions can negotiate.