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What Is A Collective Bargaining Agreement?

A collective bargaining agreement (CBAs) helps provide a greater degree of predictability for employers in the areas of wages, bonuses, and working hours.  This can allow employers to plan better for the future of their business.  It also gives the employer a partner to go to in case of dispute, such as strikes as the union is now committed to resolving these issues.

What is a CBA?

A collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, is a written legal contract between an employer and a union representing the employees.  The CBA is the result of an extensive negotiation process between the parties regarding topics such as wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.  Once a CBA is reached, both the employer and the union are required to abide by that agreement.  This is why it is strongly recommended that an employer retain legal counsel before they participate in the collective bargaining process.

How Collective Bargaining Agreements Work

Need for Negotiation

Usually, there is an event that triggers a need for contract negotiation.  Sometimes it is a dispute between employees and their employer and other times it could be because an existing agreement is expiring, prompting a meeting for a new CBA.


When meetings occur for CBAs, each party chooses someone to represent them.  This could be an appointed employee and an appointed member of the board or an owner.  Employment lawyers are also viable options for representation.

Ground Rule Determination

Each CBA meeting is conducted based on pre-determined ground rules that both parties agree on prior to the meeting.  These rules may include factors like where and when the meeting will be held, what types of negotiations are acceptable, how long a party has to respond, etc.

Negotiation Phase

There are three different categories of subjects that are part of a CBA.  These are:

Mandatory Subjects

These are topics required by law and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), including subjects like wages, overtime, bonuses, grievance procedures, safety and work practices, and seniority.  Mandatory subjects also include procedures like discharges, layoffs, recalls, and discipline.

Voluntary or Permissive Subjects

These may be negotiated but are not required.  Such topics include internal union matters, the makeup of the employer’s board of directors, etc.

Illegal Subjects

These topics are ones that would violate the law and are prohibited.  These include closed shops, illegal discrimination, etc.

Tentative Agreement Reached

This is when the negotiations conclude and both parties agree on a resolution.  This is drafted into the collective bargaining agreement and gives specific details about the matters discussed and the agreed-upon solution for each.  During this stage, the union will review and approve or deny the agreement.  If the CBA is approved, it is signed and certified.  If it is denied, negotiations can resume or members will take action – usually in the form of a strike.

Union Members Vote to Ratify

When a CBA is approved and certified by the labor union, union members sometimes must vote to ratify the agreement.  This step ensures that the proposed solution to disputes is in alignment with the employee’s desires.

What Happens When the Current CBA Expires?

If a CBA expires, both the union and the employer are generally required to continue negotiating in good faith until a new agreement is reached.  In most cases, the terms of the old CBA are in effect until a new one takes effect.

Who has the Right to Bargain Collectively?

The right to collective bargaining is the right of individual employees in a workplace to come together and to choose a representative, based on a majority vote, who will then negotiate with their employer over terms and conditions of employment. 

Employers have a legal duty to bargain in good faith with their employee’s representative and to sign any collective bargaining agreement that has been reached.  This duty encompasses many obligations, including a duty not to make certain changes without bargaining with the union and not to bypass the union and deal directly with the employees it represents.

An Advocate You Can Trust

Successful negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement can often mean the difference between growth and failure for a business.  I’m Rob Robinson, and I have spent the last three decades practicing labor and employment law for both private and public employers in Southwest Florida.  I understand the collective bargaining process and can assist your business with negotiating a fair employment contract as well as resolving any disputes that may arise.

Please contact my office today.  Let my experience guide you through the challenges of the CBA process.

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