Key Provisions of Collective Bargaining Agreements (Part 1)

Collective bargaining agreements contain many different clauses. Some clauses are more important than others, but all clauses in a labor contract must be negotiated between the union and the employer. I consider the following clauses to be some of the most important provisions of a contract; recognition, management rights, dues check off, no strike / no lockout, sympathy strike, subcontracting, and union security. Each of these clauses will be expanded on in a three part series of Key Provisions of Collective Bargaining Agreements.

Recognition Clause: The recognition clause details precisely which employees the employer accepts (recognizes) as being in the bargaining unit and represented  by the union. Only these employees will be covered by the collective bargaining agreement. Recognition is given either voluntarily by the employer, involuntarily after an employer caves to the pressures of recognition picketing, by evidence that the union represents a majority of the employees via card check (employers should never agree to this), or after an NLRB conducted election. Even after an election, the recognition clause may be recorded wrongly by the NLRB, so ensuring that the employees who belong in the bargaining unit are the only ones listed in the recognition clause is critical. If an employer believes the the recognition clause is wrong, it should try to negotiate a proper clause with the union before filing a UC Petition with the NLRB to clarify which employees are in the bargaining unit.

Management Rights Clause Employers love management rights clauses. Collective bargaining agreements contain a management rights clause that specifies exactly what is not subject to negotiation. Instead, they detail what areas of operating the company are left to the sole discretion of the employer. For example, the right to hire, fire, promote, suspend, and discharge employees, direct the work of employees, and establish operating policies are generally reserved for the exclusive use and control of management. These rights, however, are not absolute. For example, although a management rights clause allows employers to decide who to fire, terminations can be grieved and arbitrated by unions if the union disagrees with the decision or procedure of termination.  Some management rights clauses provide greater rights to management than others, so employers should carefully review their collective bargaining agreements have an intimate working knowledge of what is and is not included in their management rights clause.

Dues Check Off:  Dues check off is when the employer deducts union dues from members’ paychecks and remits the dues money directly to the union – just like how employers withhold taxes from paychecks and remit them directly to the government. Unions enjoy dues check off clauses because the union does not need to collect dues from members individually after the members have already deposited the paycheck into their bank accounts and began spending the money on life’s necessities. As you can imagine, the success rate of actually collecting checks from each individual bargaining unit member after that money lands in the employees bank account drops precipitously. When union dues are deducted through dues check off, employees mentally consider the deduction to be another payroll tax and are less opposed to making the payment.

Coming up in Part 2 of What are Key Provisions of Collective Bargaining Agreements is no strikes, no lock outs clauses and sympathy strike clauses.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio labor lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Matt can be reached by email at or by phone at 614.285.5342.