The cover of The Atlanta Issue of The Dramatist
DG Glossary: Collective Bargaining

Knowing and understanding industry terminology is vital to negotiating and working in the theatre. From time to time, we will be highlighting terminology that is important for all dramatists to understand.

Collective bargaining

“Collective bargaining” refers to the process by which employees negotiate the terms of employment with their employers. Employees are normally represented by a labor union during this process and are therefore acting collectively to balance the relative bargaining power of those providing the labor with those providing the capital.

The terms negotiated during collective bargaining can include a wide range of subjects, including working conditions, salaries and compensation, and benefits (including pension and healthcare).

The goal of collective bargaining is to establish a written contract, sometimes called a “minimum basic agreement” (an “MBA”), which covers specific periods and is renegotiated thereafter at specified times, to reflect the evolving conditions of a particular industry.

The process of collective bargaining is governed by the National Labor Relations Act. Under the Act, labor unions are exempt from the restrictions of anti-trust laws, which would otherwise make such collective actions illegal.

Currently, only “employees” are entitled to the anti-trust exemption provided for labor unions. Independent contractors (like dramatists) are not deemed “employees” for purposes of labor, tax, or anti-trust laws and so are not entitled to form a union or otherwise engage in collective action (including collective bargaining, boycotting or striking, etc.)

When employees create copyrightable work within the scope of their employment, their work is deemed a “work for hire” and is owned by the employer. So, as independent contractors, dramatists retain ownership of their copyrights and exert control over their work through their production agreements.

Only about 10% of the American labor force is currently unionized, with a third of those employees working in the public sector. But work in America has changed since those early 20th century laws were enacted and many workers are now treated as independent contractors, unable to protect themselves in the marketplace. That is why the PRO (Protect the Right to Organize) Act and other federal legislative initiatives are intended to either redefine “employees” to include certain types of independent contractors, or to otherwise allow such workers to engage in such collective action, without making these authorial workers “employees” whose copyrights are automatically subject to the “work for hire” doctrine. 

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Collective Bargaining