Collective Bargaining

What Is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the basic process of negotiation between workers who have organized a union and their employer on issues such as wages, work rules and policies, child care, staffing ratios, health and safety on the job, benefits, insurance premiums, work schedules, vacation, etc.

Collective bargaining gives organized workers a tool through which to change unfair working conditions and have a real voice on the job.

The process of collective bargaining should result in a legally enforceable collective bargaining agreement between workers and their employer. A legally enforceable collective bargaining agreement ensures that agreements between management and workers are binding.

Without the right of workers to reach a legally enforceable agreement with their employers, management has the total authority to create and interpret policies.

Laws that Restrict Collective Bargaining

Although public workers in North Carolina and Virginia have the right to form and join a union and can negotiate with their employer for fair wages and benefits—as well as fair working conditions—it is illegal for employers and their employees to sign a legally-enforceable collective bargaining agreement.

North Carolina General Statute § 95-98 prohibits state and local governments from entering into collective bargaining agreements with their employers. Virginia Code 40.1-57.2 outlaws collective bargaining in Virginia. North Carolina and Virginia are the only two states in the country to have such laws on the books.

NCGS § 95-98 was signed into law in 1959 by an all-white legislature during the time of Jim Crow segregation and major human rights violations in the United States. The NAACP has deemed NCGS § 95-98 to be North Carolina’s last Jim Crow law.

Does the Prohibition of Bargaining Rights Violate International Law?

Yes. International covenants are clear: workers have the right to bargain collectively and freely associate. In March 2007, the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) found North Carolina’s ban on collective bargaining to be in violation of international labor standards. In that decision the ILO called on the United States government to “promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the public sector in North Carolina” and called specifically for the repeal of NCGS § 95-98.

But North Carolina’s and Virginia’s backwards statutes also violate international law because of the miserable working conditions they have created for public workers. In the autumn of 2005, the International Commission on Labor Rights (ICLR) sent an independent delegation of international labor rights experts from around the world to North Carolina to document working conditions of public sector workers. After meeting with workers, visiting work sites, and taking substantial testimony, the ICLR delegation found that NC’s prohibition of collective bargaining had resulted in deplorable working conditions for state and municipal workers, including widespread race and sex discrimination and unsafe workplaces. Both employment discrimination and unsafe working conditions violate numerous international covenants.

There are a number of ways to get involved:

  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in support of the repeal of NCGS § 95-98 or Virginia Code 40.1-57.2
  • Call or write a handwritten letter to your legislators
  • Talk to your local elected officials about passing a resolution in favor of collective bargaining rights
  • Join a local collective bargaining rights committee

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