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What Is a Labor Relations Specialist?

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.

November 16, 2023

6 min read

No meaningful discussion of today’s economy would be complete without touching on the subject of labor relations. Simply defined, labor relations is the relationship between a company and its workforce. This article will discuss the role of the labor relations specialist and some of what it takes to prepare to purse this career. 


What is a labor relations specialist? In our present-day business landscape, labor relations specialists are human resources professionals who are responsible for mediating disputes between organizations and their labor forces, or between companies and individual employees. 

A Brief Overview of Unions in the U.S.

During the course of the 20th century, the size of the American workforce increased roughly six fold, with numerous changes in the relationship between big companies and their workforces and improvements like reduced hours in the workweek, the growth of labor unions, improvements in workplace safety, higher wages and employee benefits programs.  

Despite an overall decline in numbers over the past several decades, union membership remains strong and influential in several industries. The most unionized industries in the United States are educators (the National Education Association is the biggest union in the country, with more than 3 million members), steelworkers, public service workers, auto workers and electrical workers. 

What Does a Labor Relations Specialist Do?

Using a firm understanding of employment law and refined skills in communication and negotiation, labor relations specialists work as mediators to resolve disputes between organizations and their employees. Their objective is often to arrange and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining is the process of negotiating with an organized group of employees, such as labor union members, over issues like wages and benefits, workplace safety or other employment conditions. 

The labor relations specialist’s primary role is to advocate for employees, investigate grievances and help to resolve employer-employee conflicts. Their work, however, is not exclusively with workers. In their relationship with employers, they may provide advice on labor contracts, disciplinary procedures or employee grievances.

Becoming a Labor Relations Specialist

If you want to prepare to pursue a career as a labor relations specialist, the first step along your career journey will be to obtain the appropriate education.

According to occupational outlook data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you will typically need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in labor relations, business, human resources or a related field to enter the occupation. Crucial areas of study for aspiring labor relations specialists are employment law and human resources. Undergraduate and post-graduate studies in these areas can help you gain an understanding of benchmarks like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act.

At DeVry, our Bachelor’s Degree with a Specialization in Human Resource Management can help you create a strong foundation of knowledge in HR. Coursework in pay structures, employee benefits, payroll systems, hiring and more emphasizes the management of workforce talent. 

If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree and are prepared to take your education to the next level, our MBA with a Specialization in Human Resources from our Keller Graduate School of Management may be a good fit. This Master of Business Administration program will help you develop a deeper understanding of HR management theory and practices, employment law and strategic HR management. As you build HR-specific skills you can sharpen your knowledge and experience in business communication and management theory, preparing you to pursue mid-level corporate HR positions. 

The skills required for the labor relations specialist job include a medley of technical and workplace talents that enable them to communicate effectively, negotiate and resolve conflicts while staying cool under pressure:

  • High-level verbal and interpersonal communication skills, including active listening, speaking, reading comprehension and negotiating.

  • Knowledge of English, human resources, law and government, and business administration and management.

  • Strong and detail-oriented writing skills, necessary to draft proposals, evaluate labor laws and record employee grievances. 

  • Technical skills, which include proficiency in presentation and spreadsheet software, email, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and HR software. 

As in many other occupations, labor relations specialists may earn industry-relevant certifications that can contribute to their career advancement as resume-builders or to fulfill certain employer requirements. Certification programs typically require candidates to have some level of professional experience, hold a degree and pass an examination. Here are 2 certification programs that apply specifically to labor relations professionals:  

  • CLRP: The Certified Labor Relations Professional (CLRP) is a certification program offered by the National Labor Relations Board and is designed to help labor relations professionals demonstrate knowledge in the areas of labor relations, collective bargaining and dispute resolution.

  • CHRP-LR: Offered by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA), the Certified Human Resources Professional in Labor Relations (CHRP-LR) credential validates the knowledge, skills and abilities of labor relations professionals in similar areas with a combination of education, experience and examination.   

Labor Relations Specialist Daily Responsibilities

The typical duties of labor relations specialists accurately reflect their role as intermediaries between management and labor:

  • Writing labor relations activity letters about disputes, clarifying contract terms and amending collective bargaining agreements.

  • Drafting proposals or counterproposals as part of the collective bargaining process.

  • Monitoring a company’s human resources practices to ensure they are adhering to union agreements and federal labor laws. 

  • Investigating the validity of labor grievances, which may involve collecting evidence and representing a company or employee at labor negotiations, arbitration or legal proceedings.

  • Meeting with union representatives, or leading meetings between management and labor groups.

  • Keeping up to date with HR industry trends in areas such as employee wellness, diversity, equity and inclusion, employee retention and new technologies.  

Labor Relations Specialist Job Outlook

The BLS projects little or no change in the employment of labor relations specialists from 2022 to 2032. Despite this limited growth for the occupation, about 5,200 job openings for labor relations specialists are projected each year, on average, over the decade.1 This growth is projected on a national level and local growth will vary by location. This projection is not specific to DeVry University graduates and may include earners at all stages of their careers.

The BLS further notes that the demand for labor relations specialists is tied to the rise and fall of union membership, and their knowledge will be needed as union negotiations and contract disputes continue. 

Advance Your Career in Human Resources with a DeVry MBA

Pursue your passion for the people side of business with an MBA with a Specialization in Human Resources here at DeVry. This online or hybrid2 MBA program can help you understand the essentials of developing an organization’s talent and culture and is fully aligned with the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) HR Curriculum Guidebook and Templates. Explore topics like strategic HR management, employment law, technology applications, performance measurement and more as you prepare to pursue career opportunities in employee compensation, analysis, management and labor relations.

1 Growth projected on a national level. Local growth will vary by location. BLS projections are not specific to DeVry University students or graduates and may include earners at all stages of their career and not just entry level.

2Program, course, and extended classroom availability vary by location. In site-based programs, students will be required to take a substantial amount of coursework online to complete their program.

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