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Labor Relations Specialist Job Description, Career as a Labor Relations Specialist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College

Salary Starting—$36,967 per year

Employment Outlook Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Labor relations specialists serve as a link between employees and management. Labor relations is a specialized area of personnel work, sometimes referred to as "industrial relations." In most cases, labor relations specialists work for unionized companies or government agencies. The goal of these specialists is to keep their company's or agency's labor force as satisfied and productive as possible. Some labor relations specialists are employed by government agencies that deal with labor laws or do research on subjects related to labor relations. Others work for national unions, serve as independent consultants, or teach labor relations in colleges or universities. Teachers in such fields as labor or industrial relations, economics, or law often serve as consultants.

In a small plant, one worker may handle all areas of personnel work, including labor relations. In larger plants, however, duties are more specialized. There may be one worker or an entire staff dealing with only labor relations. The staff may be headed by a director of labor relations. Labor relations specialists must keep up with new developments and interpretations in the field of labor law and must meet regularly with elected union officials.

The labor relations staff serves as a communications bridge between a company's employees and its management. Labor relations specialists advise management on many different areas of union-management relations. For example, they provide background information to help prepare management for new contract negotiations. Either a high-ranking management official or the director of labor relations does the actual negotiating. On a day-to-day basis, labor relations people help to resolve employee grievances, or complaints. They help to resolve differing interpretations of a union contract. They may settle disputes that arise over layoffs or promotions that are based on seniority rights.

Dispute resolution is also an important responsibility of labor relations specialists, as both labor and management strive to avoid costly legal battles, strikes, or other disruptions. Dispute resolution can involve employees, management, unions, other firms, and government agencies. Dispute resolution specialists must be highly knowledgeable and experienced and often report to the director of industrial relations. Conciliators, or mediators, advise and counsel labor and management to prevent or resolve disagreements over contracts and related issues. Arbitrators decide disputes that bind both labor and management to specific terms and conditions of labor contracts.

Labor relations specialists are also employed by government agencies at the municipal, state, and federal levels. They often serve government agencies in much the same way that labor relations specialists serve private employers, although they are more likely to deal with job classification and other matters unique to government work. Some labor relations specialists work for government agencies that make sure labor laws are being observed. For example, they deal with regulations covering such areas as wages, hours, fair employment practices, and safety codes. Others specialize in research, studying employer-employee relationships, wages, unemployment statistics, labor laws, economics, and similar subjects. The goal of these labor relations specialists is to find new ways to make sure that workers' legal rights are protected.

Education and Training Requirements

Most labor relations specialists are college graduates. Many of them have bachelor's degrees in labor relations, personnel work, business administration, or liberal arts. Some have master's degrees in labor or industrial relations. Some kinds of jobs in labor relations require law degrees. It usually takes between four and seven years of full-time study beyond the high school level to complete the necessary training, depending on the degree and the kind of job. Some labor relations specialists start out in the larger field of personnel work and move into labor relations after gaining several years of experience.

Getting the Job

College placement offices often have information and advice on getting a job in the labor relations field. Apply directly to private companies or government agencies that hire labor relations specialists. Applicants for government jobs must pass a civil service examination. Many companies and agencies list openings in newspaper want ads, professional journals, or on Internet job sites. Management consulting firms and private and state employment agencies are other likely sources for job leads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Labor relations specialists usually advance by gaining experience, improving their skills, or obtaining graduate degrees. Some become supervisors of other labor relations people. A few are promoted to the position of director of labor relations. Other labor relations specialists start their own consulting businesses.

Employment opportunities in the field of labor relations are expected to grow faster than average through 2014. Both large and small businesses are recognizing the importance of maintaining good labor-management relations. In addition, the body of federal and state laws and regulations affecting labor-management relations, employment practices, plant safety, and employee benefit programs is growing steadily. This growth should create a need for many more labor relations specialists. More people are being trained in labor relations, however, and competition for jobs is expected to be keen.

Working Conditions

Labor relations specialists' work usually takes place in clean, pleasant, and comfortable office settings. They also spend time in a plant's production area or wherever employees work. Arbitrators and mediators may work out of their homes. Labor relations specialists may have to do a considerable amount of traveling. Many labor relations managers and specialists work a standard thirty-five- to forty-hour week. The work can be very demanding, however. Longer hours might be necessary when contract agreements are being prepared and negotiated.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association of Industrial Management
PO Box 924
Agawam, MA 01001-0924
(413) 737-8766

International Public Management Association for Human Resources
1617 Duke St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 549-7100

Labor and Employment Relations Association
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
121 Labor and Industrial Relations Bldg.
504 E. Armory Ave.
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 333-0072

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on the education and experience of the labor relations specialist, the location, and the kind of job. According to a 2005 survey, bachelor's degree candidates majoring in labor relations received starting offers averaging $36,967 per year. In 2004 the average annual salary of labor relations specialists employed by the federal government was $93,895 per year. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production