What Does a Labor Relations Professional Do?

Labor relations professional meeting with employee
••• Tetra Images / Getty Images

Becoming labor relations (or industrial relations) professional might be a fitting career if you possess the necessary soft skills. These skills include a professional demeanor, collaborative work style, respect for diverse populations, and exceptional interpersonal communication skills. Labor relations staff members deal almost exclusively with unionized workplaces.

Labor Relations and Unions

As a specialized role in the field of human resources, labor relations employees are vital for preparing information for management to utilize during the collective bargaining process.

Using their vast knowledge about economics, wage data, labor law, and collective bargaining trends, labor relations professionals interpret and administer employees’ contracts with respect to grievances, wages or salaries, employee welfare, healthcare benefits, pensions, union practices, and other stipulations.

Labor relations managers often implement industrial labor relations programs to oversee compliance with the union’s negotiated contract, and directors take on additional labor relations tasks. 

Because more and more companies are seeking to avoid litigation or strikes, specialists in this field of human resources are essential for serving as a liaison to resolve disputes between employees and management.

Duties of the Director of Labor Relations

Developing and implementing labor policy is only a part of the responsibilities a labor relations professional handles. They may also oversee the management of industrial labor relations and, in smaller companies, handling industrial labor relations. At times they will be required to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the union.

The professional will manage grievance procedures to handle complaints resulting from disputes with unionized employees over the collective bargaining agreement, work rules, and the interpretation of work contracts. They will work as an advisor to human resources staff members and other managers of unionized employees to ensure compliance with the contract.

The labor relations professional will regularly consult with human resources, department managers, and senior staff to get input into aspects of personnel policy, wages, benefits, pensions, work rules, and practices. These are all items that may be negotiated when developing a new or revised union contract.

Understanding the Law and Economy Are Key

Labor relations managers and their staffs implement industrial labor relations programs and oversee compliance with the union-negotiated contract. When a collective bargaining agreement is up for negotiation, labor relations staff prepare information and make recommendations for management to use during union negotiations.

This requires labor relations staff to be fully up to speed when it comes to being informed about the state of the economy and market-rate pay. Staff must be familiar with current trends in collective bargaining agreements and competitive benefits and work rules. They also need to have extensive knowledge of labor laws and approaches to take for resolution.

Those working in labor relations need a broad skillset and depth of capability. The labor relations staff is also tasked with researching, developing, interpreting, and administering the union contract regarding wages, benefits, employee working conditions, health care, pensions, union and management practices, grievances, and other contractual provisions.

Career Prospects in Labor Relations

Union membership is declining in most industries and state governments are going after collective bargaining agreements of public-sector labor forces because of the cost and unwieldiness of the agreements. Labor relations professionals may see more limited employment opportunities in the future as a result of these trends.

If you're thinking about going into this field, consider obtaining a more broadly based college degree (and experience) than labor relations. For instance, consider majoring in human resources, which has numerous career options. Courses in business, management, and psychology are also viable options. You will find you will have far more career choices if you don't narrow-focus yourself.