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Labor Relations Specialist


Description

Labor relations specialists work in human resources fields such as collective bargaining, grievance resolution, arbitration and human resources management and staff training. Analogous to a human resources specialist, labor relations specialists focus their work on employment trends, negotiating and interpreting collective agreements and often mediating labor relations disputes. For instance, labor relations workers focus on trends in governmental hiring, such as the demand for minority workers and equal opportunity hiring. It is imperative that they keep up to date on these industry developments. Labor relations specialists are often employed by larger organizations due to the specialized nature of their work.

These specialists are involved in collective bargaining disputes and discussions, which concentrate on contract issues such as salaries, holidays, sick days and employee conduct. Often acting as a mediator between management and union groups, they help ratify agreements between both parties and find solutions that everyone can agree on.

The labor relations role has become increasingly meaningful as companies and organizations realize the importance of having an employee who acts as a negotiator and middle-person within a company thereby increasing the profitability and success of any business. Labor relations specialists are well versed in all human rights laws, labor codes, union accords and safety guidelines.

A labor relations specialist's career description is expanding in scope and responsibility. They play an important advising and consulting role to all employees in a company. They are responsible for staff welfare and morale, including the health and safety of employees and working conditions. Small companies often do not hire labor relations specialists but instead hire a general human resources specialist to complete all personnel work.

A difficult aspect of the labor relations specialist's position is dealing with the "dirty work" within a company. They often have to act as mediators to employees with clashing personalities, fire people and reprimand negligent employees, which can be extremely hard to do.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$24,760
 
Median Salary:
$42,800
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$72,530

  Interests and Skills  
Communication skills are the most important tool in a labor relations specialist's job. They must possess sound judgment and problem solving skills, have the ability to understand a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, assume leadership skills, be well organized and manage time properly, and attempt to get the cooperation of employers, unions and employees to settle disputes.

Labor relations specialists should enjoy working with people and taking responsibility for ideas and projects. They must be organized and be both analytical and fair in making decisions. Finally, labor relations specialists need to be understanding, patient and good at listening. They must be able to work well under pressure and keep information private. They must also be culturally sensitive in order to relate well to people of different ethnicities and backgrounds.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Provide advice to management regarding employee promotions, transfers and dismissals
  • Administer all employee benefits such as group life insurance, sickness and accident benefits, health insurance, holidays and retirement pension plans
  • Administer and handle labor relations issues, collective agreements and mediation disputes within the organization
  • Make sure performance standards are consistent with the organization's mission and structure
  • Develop system to improve employment policies and practices and recommend changes to management
  • Meet with supervisors to resolve employee grievances and issues
  • Study legislation, arbitration decisions, and collective bargaining contracts to assess industry trends
  • Labor relations specialists always work in an office setting. A typical day will entail discussing labor issues and grievances with management and staff and attending labor relations meetings. Regular office hours are required of all labor relations specialists however some in higher management positions will be required to work longer hours in order to complete tasks and duties. There is constant communication between the labor relations specialist and employees and management therefore the office work is of a social nature. In some cases, negotiators will travel for meetings.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Labor relations specialists are employed in both the public and private sectors. They often work for business and organizations such as universities, health care institutions, large retail stores, governments, manufacturing companies, and financial institutions (where there are many employees) and act as private consultants or mediators to smaller companies looking for labor relations solutions.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Labor relations usually start their careers as entry-level human resources specialists. Then with more specialized experience; they advance within their field to become labor relations professionals. Advancement prospects may include opening up your own labor relations consulting firm, advancing to supervisory and executive management positions, becoming a private mediator or arbitrator and switching careers to work in public relations, career counseling and motivation, social work or teaching.

It is hard to move right into a labor relations position right out of university because people lack the technical and practical experience of dealing with people, which can only be learned on the job through experience. Going back to university to obtain a master's degree may also help in getting promotions.
 

  Educational Paths  
Labor relations specialists must complete either a university degree or college diploma in a field related to labor relations and some companies now require graduate degrees. In fact, lots of labor relations specialists already have master's degrees. Many come to their positions with business and law backgrounds. A law degree is an excellent stepping stone for a labor relations career.

These days, recent graduates may require internship, work-study or volunteer experience in order to get hired as an entry-level human resources specialist, which is also a great starting point for labor relations specialists. Still, as with most careers, experience and knowledge of the industry is always going to be the best training. Learning how to deal with all members of a company (both management and staff) is a skill that takes some practice.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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