What is a Labor Dispute?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A labor dispute is a conflict which arises over the terms negotiated in collective bargaining agreements mediated by a union. Labor disputes can occur while the union is working with the employer to negotiate an agreement, or when an already established agreement is violated. If labor disputes escalate, they can develop into strikes, in which the employees do not report for work until the dispute is resolved. This can become extremely costly very quickly and can lead to situations in which governments may be forced to intervene.

If negotiations over collectively bargained contracts break down, a union may vote to go on strike.
If negotiations over collectively bargained contracts break down, a union may vote to go on strike.

The origins of labor disputes can lie in any number of disagreements about the terms of an agreement. Employers may balk at wages, limits on hours, and other aspects of an agreement. Likewise, unions may refuse to endorse an agreement which they feel does not offer enough benefits to their members. Labor disputes can also occur as a result of violations of the agreement which result in a report to the union. For example, an employee who is not compensated properly would report it to a union representative, who would take the employee's case up with the employer in order to resolve it.

A labor dispute at an airline company may complicate the travel plans of many customers.
A labor dispute at an airline company may complicate the travel plans of many customers.

Workers, unions, and employers all want to avoid labor disputes. Missing work as a result of a dispute hurts employees as well as employers, and being unable to negotiate an agreement is not helpful either. However, there may be certain things which people view as nonnegotiable, and sometimes that results in situations in which disputes arise because neither side wants to give way, or one side feels that its sticking point is important enough that it cannot compromise to end the labor dispute.

Workers may start a labor dispute if they feel the conditions to work in are unsafe.
Workers may start a labor dispute if they feel the conditions to work in are unsafe.

Representatives of the union and employer, including lawyers, can attempt to negotiate a labor dispute before it snowballs into a strike or similar employee action. Sometimes these negotiations attract attention from the media, especially when the dispute involves an industry in which many people are interested. A labor dispute at an airline, for example, may be followed closely because it can lead to a strike which may complicate air travel.

Labor unions allow groups of employees to band together to influence their pay structure.
Labor unions allow groups of employees to band together to influence their pay structure.

The goal of the union is to represent the interests of the employees and to make sure that they are protected. Unions place a high priority on safe working environments, fair compensation, and limits on how employees may be utilized. Many labor disputes stem from one of these three issues, because they are so key to the union and they can become critical points in contract negotiations which turn into a labor dispute.

Labor disputes may involve unsafe working conditions.
Labor disputes may involve unsafe working conditions.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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