Laws governing the representation process are often quite complex. This process prefaces the collective bargaining process and involves numerous considerations, including types of employees that will constitute a "bargaining unit" (a teachers' union, typically), as well as the selection of an appropriate union to represent teachers. In the public school sector, state law affects both of these determinations. Some states exclude certain employees from a bargaining unit, including supervisors and individuals in management positions.
Teachers seeking to join for collective bargaining must define an appropriate bargaining unit. Under most labor relations statutes, only those individuals who share a "community of interests" may comprise an appropriate bargaining unit. Community of interests generally means that the teachers have substantial mutual interests, including the following:
Many state statutes prescribe certain requirements or considerations with respect to bargaining units in the public sector. For example, some statutes require labor boards to avoid over-proliferation of bargaining units. Moreover, some statutes also set forth specific bargaining units, such as those for faculty, staff, maintenance, and similar distinctions.
The National Labor Relations Act and most state statutes provide formal processes for designation and recognition of bargaining units. If a dispute arises regarding union representation, many states direct parties to resolve these dispute with the public employment relations board in that state. After the bargaining units are organized, members may file a petition with the appropriate labor board. The labor board will generally determine that jurisdiction over the bargaining unit is appropriate, that the proposed bargaining unit is appropriate, and that a majority of employees approve the bargaining unit through an election.
Several procedures are usually in place in the statute and rules of the labor board to ensure that the vote is not coerced and otherwise fair. After this election, the labor board will certify the union as the exclusive representative of the bargaining unit. Once a union is certified, usually for a one-year period, neither employees nor another union may petition for a new election.
See FindLaw's Teachers' Unions section for more information.