Labor relations is a field of study that can have different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. In an international context, it is a subfield of labor history that studies the human relations with regard to work – in its broadest sense – and how this connects to questions of social inequality. It explicitly encompasses unregulated, historical, and non-Western forms of labor. Here, labor relations define "for or with whom one works and under what rules. These rules (implicit or explicit, written or unwritten) determine the type of work, type and amount of remuneration, working hours, degrees of physical and psychological strain, as well as the degree of freedom and autonomy associated with the work."
More specifically in an American and strictly modern context, labor relations is the study and practice of managing unionized employment situations. In academia, labor relations is frequently a sub-area within industrial relations, though scholars from many disciplines – including economics, sociology, history, law, and political science – also study labor unions and labor movements. In practice, labor relations is frequently a subarea within human resource management. Courses in labor relations typically cover labor history, labor law, union organizing, bargaining, contract administration, and important contemporary topics.
In the United States, labor relations in the private sector is regulated by the National Labor Relations Act. Public sector labor relations is regulated by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and various pieces of state legislation. In other countries, labor relations might be regulated by law or tradition.
An important professional association for U.S. labor relations scholars and practitioners is the Labor and Employment Relations Association.
- Karin Hofmeester et al. (2015) The Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations, 1500-2000: Background, Set-Up, Taxonomy, and Applications (IISH Dataverse).
- John W. Budd (2010) Labor Relations: Striking a Balance, 3rd ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill/Irwin).