March 12, 2024
Title image with "Labor Union Agreements: How to Stay Compliant" over photo of tradesmen at a worksite

So, your workforce is in the process of forming a labor union or has already unionized…now what? There is much to understand about collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and labor law compliance regarding unions. 

This is a delicate area where HR and leadership must make an effort to build positive relations with unionized employees, negotiate a contract, and adhere to it. Read on for five steps to adhere to the union contract, plus best practices for a continued successful relationship.

1. Establish & Understand the Collective Bargaining Agreement

If employees have recently unionized, leadership, HR, and your legal counsel should ideally draw up a CBA. This contract outlines requirements and protections for both parties, mitigating uncertainty. The CBA typically includes terms and conditions of employment, such as: 

  • Wages
  • Hours and breaks
  • Benefits
  • Dispute resolution and disciplinary action procedures
  • Anti-discrimination laws

…and many more. The more detailed these terms and conditions are, the more likely you’ll be to avoid future conflict.

The union agreement should note how long it will be valid. Once the contract expires, both parties must meet to negotiate a new contract in good faith. Revisit the CBA regularly and ensure both sides follow all stated policies and procedures. 

While the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) mandates that the employer and union meet and neither can refuse to bargain collectively, parties do not HAVE to come to an agreement. Just remember that this can complicate and draw out the situation. 

For example, if you declare an impasse and move forward with the last offer you presented to the union, the union can refute this and file an unfair labor practice for failure to bargain in good faith. At this point, the issue is brought to the NLRB, which will decide whether an impasse was reached.

2. Address Conflict Resolution & Disciplinary Action

A union agreement usually outlines terms and procedures for handling grievances or corrective actions. For example, it might include a shop steward representation provision granting employees the right to have a union representative present during investigatory or disciplinary meetings with management. The rep acts as a witness and advocate for the employee and helps protect their rights during the process. 

CBAs often include guidelines for handling workplace conflicts and complaints, including a process, timelines for resolution at each step, and arbitration if the issue remains unresolved. 

Union workers may bring grievances to management through your organization’s internal policies and procedures or approach their union for support. If an employee turns to the union, the union must then inform your business and represent the employee. Typically, conflicts can be resolved quickly and internally when addressed proactively. While the union could opt for legal action in extreme cases, this is not the norm.

3. Manage Union Dues

Most unions require members to pay monthly fees to support activities and operations, which are often defined in the CBA. These union dues are typically handled through a payroll deduction and cover things like negotiating and enforcing contract terms, representing members in grievance procedures, and funding other union activities such as organizing campaigns and political advocacy.

The process usually includes: 

  1. Authorization: When an employee becomes a union member, they typically sign an authorization form consenting to have union dues deducted from their wages.
  2. Payroll Deduction: The employer deducts the agreed-upon amount of union dues from the employee’s paycheck regularly, usually each pay period.
  3. Remittance to Union: The employer then submits the fees to the union on behalf of the employees.

4. Commit to Compliance

While compliance is critical for any employer, it is particularly sensitive for those with unionized workforces.  First, you should understand and adhere to labor laws, including: 

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The FLSA dictates federal requirements for minimum wage, overtime, and child labor laws. 
  • National Labor Relations Act (NLRA): Union employees’ rights to collective bargaining and concerted activity are protected by NLRA provisions.
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA): OSHA includes regulations around creating a safe and healthy workplace to ensure employee well-being.


Additionally, you should implement policies and practices to protect your workers and ensure a culture of equity and inclusion, such as: 

  • An anti-harassment and discrimination policy addressing vital areas like fair hiring and promotion practices, compensation, and corrective actions.
  • Following employee privacy laws—certain information, like age, marital status, religion, and sexual orientation, are off-limits.
  • Knowing when to classify workers as W-2 employees vs. independent contractors—misclassification can subject you to legal action and significant penalties.

Make sure you understand and adhere to federal labor laws AND your state’s regulations. Requirements vary when it comes to labor unions, minimum wage, salary history and background checks, anti-discrimination policies and training, and more. Your HR and legal teams should guide you on these topics so nothing is overlooked.

5. Foster Positive Union Relations

In addition to thoroughly defined and prompt conflict resolution processes, leadership and HR teams can maintain good relationships with union employees and representatives through open, honest communication. Consistent and transparent conversations strengthen trust and prevent minor concerns or misunderstandings from escalating.

CBAs and labor laws around unions can be complex and ever-changing. Train both managers and employees on their rights and duties and encourage them to view one another as team members rather than opponents. Doing so gives them the knowledge and skills to create a positive work environment and resolve issues peacefully. 

Bonus Tips: 4 Labor Union Compliance Mistakes to Avoid

Swaying Employee Union Decisions

If employees come to HR or management asking about the union and whether they should join, your company should always respond neutrally. Simply let them know that they have the right to become union members and refer them to a union representative for more information. 

Discarding Union-related Documentation

We’ve said it before about employee documentation, and the same goes for union-related documents—keep everything! That goes for complaints, disciplinary action, workplace investigations, and other issues regarding the union and its members. These files can protect your business if legal action arises down the road.

Failing to Adhere to the CBA

Your company’s safest bet is to stick to the union contract, which will prevent most issues. Even a minor violation could damage union relations and, worse, result in a lawsuit against your business. Potential shortcuts are simply not worth the risk!

Not Taking Unions Seriously

Many unions are well-organized and mean business, with dedicated attorneys, member benefits (e.g., health insurance and retirement plans), and strong relationships with the local government. Ignoring or dismissing the union’s concerns or demands could lead to:

  • Decreased morale, escalating tensions, and labor disputes, in turn, disrupting productivity and operations
  • Reputational damage because your company is viewed as anti-union and insensitive
  • Legal action by the union, which could file unfair labor practices charges with labor relations boards or take your company to court
  • Difficulty attracting and retaining skilled workers

Respecting the Labor Union Agreement

Once you establish a CBA with the union, protecting your company and employees is as simple as honoring that contract and following employment and labor laws. You’ll enjoy a much more fruitful, positive relationship with union workers when you maintain transparent communication and view one another as team members. 

Of course, labor unions and relevant laws are complex, so having experienced legal counsel and HR professionals by your side will help you navigate the process and negotiations much more smoothly. If you’re still searching for that HR partner, contact BlueLion at 603-818-4131 or to learn how we can help today!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.