Most broadly, this term can refer to any negotiation where a group of people have chosen a representative or representatives to bargain with an individual or another group, with the results to be binding on all, perhaps requiring ratification by the group as a whole.

Commonly this term is used to refer to labor union negotiations with a corporation, an individual employer, or the government. Usually the final goal is a written contract acceptable to both parties.

The tools available to each party to put pressure on the other vary according to the industry and situation. Employers are forbidden for penalizing employees simply for being in a union, but may claim they cannot afford to accept the employees demands and will cease operations if the damands are not moderate. The Taylor Law makes it illegal for government employees to strike, but other unions may collectively cease work and discourage others from taking their places by legal means - or occasionally illegal means. Often a company will find ways to discourage union membership that cannot be proven in court.