We have discussed several different topics in this space regarding the rights of workers and the responsibilities of employers to those workers they employ. Generally, we have focused on the rights of individual workers and how the law affects them. The reasons for this are twofold: one, most people are interested in what they themselves can do if treated unfairly and two, most employees in Oklahoma have an 'at will' relationship with their employers, so that they are each dealing with the company individually.
There is, however, another workplace model that, while its frequency has been decreasing since the 1980s, still exists in certain industries. This model is one of collective bargaining or unionization. Simply put, a labor union exists for the purposes of negotiating employment standards such as wage, benefits and safety measures on behalf of all its members. In theory, this leverages the power of a group of workers to get a better deal than each of them would be able to get individually.
So, how does this affect an employee's legal rights? Most basically, a union negotiated deal is generally considered a contract for all the union's members. That is, rather than being employed at will, the employment relationship is governed by the stipulations of the collective bargaining agreement, as if each worker had negotiated a contract with the employer. This could mean any number of things, depending on the contents of the agreement. Along with usually specifying rates of pay and benefits, it often means that employees can be fired only for certain reasons, or there may be an administrative process set up to give employees a chance to explain why they should not be fired. According to the Oklahoma Bar, the law protects the rights of employees to attempt to unionize and collectively bargain, as well as to refrain from joining any union that might exist. It is important for employees to remember that all collective bargaining agreements are different and each will have a different impact on the employees' rights and responsibilities. Of course, such contracts cannot give up basic rights guaranteed by law, such as rights to not be subject to sexual harassment or illegal workplace discrimination based upon a protected class. Anyone with questions about whether he or she has a collective bargaining agreement or what it means may wish to consider consulting an experienced employment law attorney.