What Is a Bargaining Unit?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2019
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Associated with the process of collective bargaining between employees and an employer, a bargaining unit is composed of persons who are recognized by both the company and a legally organized labor union to negotiate matters involving employment issues. Some of these issues include safety conditions on the job, salary and benefits, job qualifications, and general working conditions and procedures. The main purpose of the unit is to create a working situation that is advantageous for both the employer and the employee.

Generally, a bargaining unit must be formed in compliance with standards that are set by the industry and often by agencies that are designed to ensure the proper function of these unions and unionized employees who are associated with the entities. Along with meeting the union requirements to participate in the unit, individuals must also be acceptable to the employer as well. The result of creating this type of communication between the bank of unionized employees and the employer is a clear means of addressing labor issues before they cause disruption in the work process. In addition, these units help to prevent the spread of incorrect information about the current status of the working relationship between the workers, the union, and the employer.


From the perspective of the employee, the bargaining unit provides a means of seeking benefits that are considered equitable for the type and amount of work that is required by the employer. This may involve a request for an increase in the rate of pay, the addition of overtime benefits, improvements to health insurance or pension plans, and the improvement of safety conditions on the job. The unit acts to make the needs and the desires of the employees known in a manner that presents a united voice that can work with the employer to explore all options that are relevant to the matter at hand.

An advantage to the employer is that a bargaining unit typically does not present an item for discussion unless two factors are present. First, there must be a significant amount of support for the item manifested among the unionized workers. Second, the union will have investigated the claim or proposition thoroughly and approved the item for presentation to the employer. This helps to eliminate a lot of wasted time responding to requests and ideas that may or may not have any real support among the employees. The bargaining unit also provides a focused means of addressing the matter with the employees, making communication back and forth much more effective and concise.


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Post 3

To what extent should the NLRB get involved in determining bargaining units? Should the vote be in the unit preferred by the employees? What do you think explains the relatively poor recent record for unions attempting to organize large bargaining units?

Post 2

@summing - Yes, you make a good point at the end there. The bargaining unit is really about efficiency. It helps streamline what could otherwise be a long messy process.

I have worked in corporate relation for a number of years and I know how drawn out and messy the negotiating process can be, particularly when there are large interests at stake. It benefits everyone to try to cut through some of the red tape and get right to the heart of the matter. Bargaining units facilitate that.

Post 1

How does the decision making process work when a bargaining unit is called in. Do both groups agree to abide by any decision the bargaining unit reaches? I can see how this would be a complicated process. It is difficult any time you take the will of a large group of people and try to condense it down into a few representatives. It is a recipe for bitterness and resentment.

But at the same time, this is kind of a necessary evil. You can't have a thousand people arguing against a thousand people. You need leaders and spokesmen for any group to function effectively.

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