Labor relations specialists interpret and administer labor contracts.
What they do
Labor relations specialists interpret and administer labor contracts regarding issues such as wages and salaries, healthcare, pensions, and union and management practices.
Labor relations specialists typically do the following:
- Advise management on contracts, worker grievances, and disciplinary procedures
- Lead meetings between management and labor
- Meet with union representatives
- Draft proposals and rules or regulations
- Ensure that human resources policies are consistent with union agreements
- Interpret formal communications between management and labor
- Investigate validity of labor grievances
- Train management on labor relations
Labor relations specialists work with representatives from a labor union and a company’s management. In addition to leading meetings between the two groups, these specialists draft formal language as part of the collective bargaining process. These contracts are called collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), and they serve as a legal and procedural guide for employee/management relations.
Labor relations specialists also address specific grievances workers might have, and ensure that all labor and management solutions comply within the relevant CBA.
Labor relations specialists generally work in offices. Some may travel for arbitration meetings or to discuss contracts with employees or management. The work of labor relations specialists can be stressful because negotiating contracts and resolving labor grievances can be tense.
How to become a Labor Relations Specialist
Applicants usually have a bachelor’s degree in labor relations, human resources, industrial relations, business, or a related field. However, the level of education and experience required to become a labor relations specialist varies by position and employer.
Labor relations specialists usually have a bachelor’s degree. Some schools offer a bachelor’s degree in labor or employment relations. These programs focus on labor-specific topics such as employment law and contract negotiation.
Candidates also may qualify for labor relations specialist positions with a bachelor’s degree in human resources, industrial relations, business, or a related field. Coursework typically includes business, professional writing, human resource management, and accounting.
Many positions require previous work experience. Candidates can gain experience as human resources specialists, compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists, or human resources generalists before specializing in labor relations.
Some colleges and universities offer labor relations certificates to specialists who prefer greater specialization in certain topics, such as mediation. Earning these certificates give participants a better understanding of labor law, the collective bargaining process, and worker grievance procedures.
The median annual wage for labor relations specialists was $69,020 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,230, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $124,380.
Employment of labor relations specialists is projected to decline 7 percent from 2019 to 2029.
The rate of union membership in 1983 was 20.1 percent; the current rate is about half that. The number of wage and salary workers who are union members is likely to continue declining. Although this will result in less overall demand for the services of labor relations specialists, their expertise and unique skills will maintain some demand for these workers as union negotiations and contract disputes continue.
Similar Job Titles
Business Agent, Business Representative, Field Operations Coordinator, Grievance Manager, Labor Relations Director, Labor Relations Specialist
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- Academy of Management
- American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO
- Association of Labor Relations Agencies
- Labor and Employment Relations Association
- National Public Employer Labor Relations Association
- Society for Human Resource Management
- United Association for Labor Education
Magazines and Publications
What happens when vital workers are poised to go on strike? Labor relations specialists look for ways to form employment agreements that will satisfy both the workers and those who employ them, and therefore prevent the chaos that can follow a strike. Most of their time is spent negotiating and writing contract proposals, and meeting face-to-face with employees and employers. They work with union representatives, company officials, and government representatives to discuss employment contracts for groups of workers, often called collective bargaining agreements. Labor Relations Specialists help form these agreements by negotiating salaries, benefits, and working conditions that both sides can agree to. If employees believe their rights have been violated, labor relations specialists examine and collect evidence around their grievances. They listen carefully to the workers they represent, and may coach them on the appropriate way to advocate and negotiate with company leaders. Labor relations specialists are experts at forging creative solutions. Job qualifications usually include a bachelor’s degree, but may require education levels from a high school diploma up to a master’s degree, depending on the occupations of the workers they represent. While sometimes facing an uphill battle, labor relations specialists do more than just resolve conflicts, they bridge the relationship between management and workers for the long-term.