collective bargaining, in labor relations, procedure whereby an employer or employers agree to discuss the conditions of work by bargaining with representatives of the employees, usually a labor union. Its purpose may be either a discussion of the terms and conditions of employment (wages, work hours, job safety, or job security) or a consideration of the collective relations between both sides (the right to organize workers, recognition of a union, or a guarantee of no reprisals against the workers if a strike has occurred). The merits of collective bargaining have been argued by both opponents and proponents of the process; the former maintain that it deprives the worker of his individual liberty to dispose of his service, while the latter point out that without the union's protection the worker is subject to the dictation of the employer. As an essential process in labor relations, collective bargaining was first developed in Great Britain in the 19th cent. It has since become an accepted practice in most Western countries with a high level of industrialization. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, known as the Wagner Act, established the right to collective bargaining in the United States.
See G. Farmer, Collective Bargaining in Transition (2 vol., 1967); J. S. Fishkin, The Limits of Obligation (1983); E. E. Herman et al., Collective Bargaining and Labor Relations (2d ed. 1987); J. P. Windmuller et al., Collective Bargaining in Industrialized Market Economies (1987).