Labor Relations Roles in Human Resources

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Of any business or organization, the Human Resources Department does so much more than just simply hiring employees. Chapter 22 of The Disaster Recovery Handbook by Michael Wallace and Lawrence Webber is called “Human Resources – Your Most Valuable Asset”. The chapter discusses HR’s role in numerous stressful situations that disrupt work flow, morale and success, from a temporary glitch all the way up to major disaster. “The Human Resources department ensures that the ‘people side’ of an emergency is addressed for the best long-term benefit of the company,” state Wallace and Webber.

The authors cite a labor strike as an example and that human resource specialists perform numerous essential duties during such a time, including being involved in the negotiating process and ensuring safety protocols are put in place (i.e. around the picket line). A labor strike or work stoppage is just one aspect of labor relations. While labor relations tend to be generally associated with unionized employees, this is not always the case. Generally speaking, labor relations refer to employers working with employees, and vice versa, with the goal of creating a fair and optimal work setting.

Depending on who you talk to, labor relations may be considered a sub-specialty of human resources or the two may be considered separate entities, yet closely intertwined.

Role of Human Resource Specialists in Labor Relations

According to Ruth Mayhew in an article written for the Houston Chronicle (“What Role Does a Human Resource Manager Play in Labor Contract Negotiations?”), human resources and labor relations may be two separate departments, particularly in larger firms/organizations. However, in smaller companies, they may be one in the same. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics adds that one specialized type of human resources specialist is referred to as a “labor relations specialist”.

For any sized employer, human resource representatives with knowledge of labor relation issues and practices play an extremely valuable role. Some HR duties that pertain to labor relations include:

  • Maintain constructive relationships with union representatives (and/or other applicable parties) and work together to resolve grievances.
  • Ensure the labor contract (which includes information on items such as, wages, benefits, pensions, union roles, management roles and more) is known and followed.
  • Take part in collective bargaining sessions with the aim of representing the employer’s as well as employee needs and helping strengthen employer-employee relations.
  • Have a firm knowledge of what is relevant to the collective bargaining process. For example if wages and benefits are the central focus, the HR manager or representative should talk to the employer’s finance department and be thoroughly familiar with the company’s financial status.
  • Represent the company/organization during arbitration procedures or hearings that are addressing unfair labor practices.
  • Educate management and employees on labor relations that pertain to their particular workplace.
  • Keep up to date on pertinent labor laws.

Relevant Education

If you are interested in a human resources career that specifically pertains to labor relations, you’ll notice that several human resource degree programs include courses on labor relations and labor laws. Several universities also offer joint Human Resource Management and Labor Relations degree programs at either the undergraduate or graduate level. Finally, when scoping out the job ads for labor relations positions, you may notice that some employers prefer candidates to have a law degree (Juris Doctor). At the very least, you should make sure to demonstrate you have taken the initiative to learn relevant labor laws.

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