Unfamiliar with union lingo? No problem. Here’s a handy resource to help guide you through the process.
AFL-CIO: The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization is an umbrella organization of some 68 national and international unions headquartered in the United States. The AFL-CIO is organized along national, regional, state and local lines.
Agency Shop: A work place with contract language requiring that every worker represented by the union pay the equivalent of union dues (an “agency fee”) whether or not they decide to become actual members of the union. (See Union Shop)
Arbitration: A method of resolving disputes (typically grievances) between the union and the employer through the intervention of a neutral third party – an arbitrator – whose decision is binding and final.
Bargaining Agent: A legally-certified union is designated by federal law as the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for a specific group of employees (the bargaining unit). This legal status is intended to prevent the formation of “company unions” – organizations that pretend to represent the workers but are dominated and controlled by management.
Bargaining Unit: A group (or groups) of workers in a craft, department, plant, company or occupation, which the National Labor Relations Board has determined is appropriate for representation by a union for the purposes of collective bargaining.
Boycott: A tactic used by workers and consumers to pressure corporations through a mass refusal to purchase their products or otherwise patronize the business.
Business Representative (BR, or Business Agent, BA): This term sounds like it refers to a management person, but it describes an official who conducts union business on a paid, full time basis.
Central Labor Council (CLC): A local body composed of AFL-CIO affiliated unions.
Check-off: A clause in the collective bargaining agreement that authorizes management to automatically deduct union dues or fees from union-represented employees.
Collective Bargaining: Direct negotiations between union and company representatives to produce a collective bargaining agreement (CBA, also known as a labor agreement or contract.)
Company Union: A sham union, dominated and often organized or inspired by the employer to manipulate the worker force and frustrate attempts to form a genuine union.
Contracting-out: When an employer hires outside personnel to perform work normally done by company employees, the work is said to be contracted-out or “out-sourced”.
Contract: A legally-enforceable agreement negotiated between a union and employer that spells out the wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment. Contracts are binding on both parties for a fixed duration (typically three years) and then expire and must be re-negotiated.
Contract Proposals: Contract language put forward by the union or the employer and subject to collective bargaining.
Cost-of-Living Allowances (COLA): Periodic pay adjustment to compensate workers for changes in the cost of living. COLA is usually geared to changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Craft Union: A union that admits only workers of a particular trade, skill set or occupation (e.g. plumbers, carpenters or electricians).
District Lodge (DL): The second-highest organizational structure within the IAM, the District Lodge is typically composed of representatives of several Local Lodges across a given region. (See Local Lodge.)
Executive Council: The top IAM leadership body, consisting of the International President, General Secretary-Treasurer and seven General Vice Presidents.
Fringe Benefits: Non-wage benefits, including paid vacations, pensions, medical and life insurance, whose cost is borne in whole or part by the employer.
Grievance: A formal complaint alleging and seeking restitution for a violation of the collective bargaining agreement.
Industrial Union: A union that organizes on the principle of uniting all workers in an industry “wall-to-wall”, regardless of craft or skill level. (See Craft Union)
Informational Picketing: Patrolling near an employer’s place of business purely for the purposes of informing and educating the public. (See Picketing)
International President (IP): With the GST, one of the top two officers of the IAM, the IP is the union’s chief administrative and judicial officer.
International Union: A union with members in more than one country, typically the U.S. and Canada.
Labor Council: An organization of AFL-CIO or CLC-affiliated unions in a state or community.
Local Lodge (LL): The basic organizational component of the IAM, the Local Lodge is typically composed of union members in one or more shops in a given area.
Lockout: A lockout occurs when an employer seeks to force the terms of a settlement by refusing work to employees or shutting down operations.
Mediation and Conciliation: A process that attempts to resolve disputes through compromise and voluntary agreement. When negotiations between the union and the employer bog down, mediators (often employed by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, FMCS) may agree to act as “go-betweens,” helping the parties find acceptable middle ground.
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): The federal agency in charge of enforcing the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the rights of the U.S. workers in the private sector to organize unions and engage in free and fair collective bargaining. Unions, employers or individual workers who feel the Act has been violated may file charges with the NLRB. If an investigation shows the charges have merit, the NLRB files a formal complaint to be heard by an Administrative Law Judge.
National Mediation Board (NMB): The federal agency in charge of enforcing the Railway Labor Act, which protects the workers’ rights to organize unions and engage in free and fair collective bargaining in the U.S. transportation industry.
Per-Capita Tax: A payment, based on the number of members, from a local lodge to its international union or from a union body to the labor councils or federations with which it is affiliated.
Picketing: Patrolling near an employers’ place of business to publicize the existence of a strike or other labor dispute to encourage people to join the union or to discourage people from working for or doing business with the employer. (See Informational Picketing.)
Premium Pay: Additional pay for work performed on overtime or under particularly difficult, dangerous or undesirable conditions.
Raiding: An attempt by one union to induce members of another to defect and join its ranks.
Re-opener: A provision allowing the renegotiation of specific portions of a collective bargaining agreement (e.g. wages or medical insurance) prior to the expiration of the entire agreement.
Scab: An epithet used to describe a worker who refuses to join the union, or who crosses a union picket line and takes the job of a striking worker.
Seniority: A term used to designate an employee’s status relative to other employees in determining the order in which they will be considered for promotion, transfer, lay-off, etc. Most collective bargaining agreements calculate seniority by total length of service with the company, sometimes with consideration for length of service within a particular craft or department.
Shift differential: Additional pay for work regularly performed outside normal daytime hours. (See Premium Pay.)
Shop Steward, or Union Steward: A union member responsible for handling problems on the shop floor, including grievances, between the members and management, educating members on union policies and activities; and getting the members involved in the union. The steward is the backbone of the union.
Strike: The workers’ ultimate weapon, the strike is the concerted withholding of labor from the employer; the refusal of the workforce to continue working for the employer unless certain terms and conditions are met. The strike is usually a tactic reserved for the last stage of collective bargaining, after all attempts to resolve the dispute have failed.
Trade Union, or Union: Workers who organize a voluntary association to further their mutual interests with respect to wages, hours, working conditions and other matters of common concern.
Union Busting: Efforts by the employer (or lawyers and professional consultants hired by the employer) to make workers to lose faith in, quit or refuse to join unions.
Union Label, or Union Bug: A stamp, emblem or other mark affixed to a product to certify it was made by union labor.
Union Shop: A contract provision requiring every worker covered by the collective bargaining agreement to become and remain a member of the union as a condition of employment or to pay an equivalent fee.
Work-to-Rule: A tactic used by workers to pressure management by scrupulously adhering to the letter of all company rules, safety regulations, contractual provisions, laws and other relevant procedures.
Yellow Dog Contract: Now illegal, a Yellow Dog Contract is an agreement between an employer and an employee in which the employee pledges, as a condition of employment, not to join a union.