A collective bargaining agreement is a legal contract between a company and its employees, who are part of a union. The contract contains various terms that outline how the union workers will be paid, the benefits they are entitled to, the hours they are required to work, and dispute resolution procedures. But, what happens if a collective bargaining agreement says one thing and a federal or state labor law says another? If you are in a union, our San Francisco employment lawyers recommend learning what happens when the terms of a union contract conflict with state or federal laws.

Can A Union Contract Override Employment Laws?

There are a number of federal and state labor laws that protect workers in California. But, it’s common for the terms of a union contract to contradict or conflict with these labor laws. In situations like these, the terms of the union contract may supersede the labor laws, but only under certain circumstances.

Collective Bargaining Agreements and Overtime Laws

Many collective bargaining agreements contain terms that outline how workers are paid for working overtime. Federal and state laws address overtime, too. The federal law states that workers must receive overtime pay, which is one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate, if they work over 40 hours in a single work week. In California, the law states that employees are entitled to this overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a single day or 40 hours in a single work week. The overtime pay increases to double the employee’s regular rate if the employee works more than 12 hours in a single day or more than seven consecutive days.

The overtime pay clause in a collective bargaining agreement will supersede these laws, but only if the terms in the agreement offer equal or greater benefits to the worker. For example, a collective bargaining agreement may state that union workers receive overtime pay for any hours worked in excess of 35 hours in a single week. Workers would not receive overtime pay for the 36th, 37th, 38th, 39th, and 40th hours of work under the state and federal laws, but they do receive overtime pay for these hours under the collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, this term of the collective bargaining agreement supersedes the federal and state laws because it is more beneficial to the employee. 

Basically, the overtime terms and pay in the union contract must be of equal or greater value to the employee than the federal or state overtime law. If the terms are of less value to the employee, the federal or state law supersedes the collective bargaining agreement. 

Collective Bargaining Agreements and Minimum Wage Laws

Many unions reach agreements with employers that state the union workers will work for less than minimum wage. Why? This is often used as a bargaining chip, which means the union will agree to work for less than minimum wage in exchange for other desirable perks such as healthcare or retirement benefits. In this case, the collective bargaining terms supersede the minimum wage laws. 

For example, the minimum wage is $15.00 per hour in San Francisco. But, the right to this minimum wage can be waived by a collective bargaining agreement. The waiver must be expressly stated within the agreement and written in clear terms otherwise it is not valid. If it meets these conditions, the employer can comply with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement rather than the local or federal minimum wage laws. In fact, union workers are the only ones who are legally allowed to waive their rights to minimum wage in the city of San Francisco.

Collective Bargaining Agreements and Payment of Wages Laws

In California, the law states that employers must pay their employees two times per calendar month on days that are designated by the employer in advance. On the first payday, employees should be paid for the work that they performed during the second half of the previous month. On the second payday, employees should be paid for the work they performed during the first half of the same month.

Most employers must comply with this payment schedule. But, the law specifically states that these rules do not apply when employees are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that outlines a different payment schedule. For example, if a collective bargaining agreement only requires an employer to pay the union employees once a month, this rule will supersede the state’s law.

Collective Bargaining Agreements and Break Laws

Federal law does not require employers to provide their employees with meal breaks, but California law does. The law in California requires employers to provide employees who work more than five hours in one day with a meal break of 30 minutes or more. If an employee works more than 10 hours in a single day, the employee is legally entitled to a second meal break. 

These rules do not apply to certain union workers, including:

  • Commercial drivers
  • Construction workers
  • Security officers
  • Employees of electric or gas corporations

These workers are not covered by the state’s meal break law as long as they are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that provides them with meal breaks. 

For example, let’s say a commercial driver is part of a union, and the collective bargaining agreement states that he is allowed one meal break for every six hours he works. In this case, the union contract would supersede the state law since the worker is a commercial driver who is covered by an agreement that provides him with meal breaks. 

How Can San Francisco Employment Lawyers Help?

Employment and labor laws are complex on their own, but they are even more confusing when it comes to determining how they apply to union workers. If you are a union worker, it’s in your best interest to seek legal representation from an experienced lawyer if you believe your employer is violating your rights. Contact the San Francisco employment lawyers at Geonetta & Frucht, LLP to discuss your case today.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.