• Glossary of Union Terms
    Updated On: Jun 16, 2015

    Unions and union organizers have developed a special vocabulary to describe much of what we do. Definitions are given here for the most commonly used terms.

    Arbitration: A way of settling disputes by calling in a neutral party whose decision is final and binding.

    Authorization Cards: A union card filled out by workers during a representation campaign. The card usually specifies the union as a collective bargaining agent of the employees and must be dated and signed. Union agents keep this information in strict confidence until the union has established its own percentage required proceeding the campaign. The NLRB will accept 30% of the employees’ signatures on cards or petitions as the "showing of interest" required to conduct an election. Once the union percentage is reach the NLRB conducts a card check and sets up the election to take place on the employers’ property. Again, the authorization cards are kept in strict confidence and the employer will NEVER see the cards.

    Bargaining Agent: Union designated by a government agency, such as the National Labor Relations Board, or recognized voluntarily by the employer, as the exclusive representative of all employees in the bargaining unit for purposes of collective bargaining.

    Bargaining Unit: A group of workers who bargain collectively with the employer. The unit may include all the workers in a single plant or in a number of plants, or it may include only the workers in a single craft or department. Final unit is determined by the NLRB, or agreed to jointly by the union and the employer.

    Business Agent: An elected or appointed representative of the union.

    Captive Audience Meeting: A national recognized term for meetings of workers called by management, on company time and property. The purpose of these meetings is to try to persuade workers to vote against union representation.

    Card Check: Procedure whereby signed authorization cards are checked by a neutral party against a list of employees in a prospective bargaining unit to determine if the union has a majority status. The employer may recognize the union on the basis of this check without the necessity of a formal election. The employer NEVER sees these cards.

    Collective Bargaining: A process which workers, through their bargaining committee, deal as a group to determine wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. Normally, the result of collective bargaining is a written contract, which covers all workers in the bargaining unit.

    Concerted Activity: The rights, protected by the National Labor Relations Act, of two or more employees to act in concert to effect their wages, hours of work, or working conditions, to form , join, or assist labor organizers.

    Constitution and Bylaws: Legal documents governing the administration of local and international unions. Adopted by union conventions or by membership vote, these rules generally cover elections and duties of officers, conventions, committees, and dues.

    Contract: A contract is a written agreement reached through collective bargaining which sets forth wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. The contract normally is for a term as short as one year and as long as three, but can be longer. At the end of such a term, a new contract is negotiated.

    Excelsior List: The list of names and addresses of employees eligible to vote in a union election. The employer provides it to the union within ten days after the election date has been set or agreed upon at the NLRB. Disputes as to the eligibility of those on the list are settled by the NLRB.

    Fees, Fines, and Assessments: Sometimes authorized by the Constitution or Bylaws, and a vote of the membership. These payments are in fact extremely rare. 

    Grievance: A dispute or difference arising between the employer and one or more employees.

    Grievance Procedure: A systematic approach to handling workplace problems. The procedure is negotiated into collective bargaining agreements. 

    Housevisits, Homecalls, and Housecalls: Terms used to describe visits by union staff, volunteers, or organizing committee to the homes of workers they are attempting to organize.

    Jurisdiction: The specific industry, craft, and/or geographical area which a local union is chartered to organize or represent.

    L-M Reports: The annual financial statement of income and expenses, including the salaries of union officers and staff. Unions are required by law to file with the Labor Management (LM) Division of the U. S, Department of Labor.

    Lockout: A denial of employment by the employer for the purpose of forcing the workers to settle on his terms.

    National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): Agency created by the National Labor Relations Act, 1935, and continued through subsequent amendment, whose functions are to define the appropriate bargaining units, to hold elections, to determine whether a majority of workers want to be represented by a specific union or no union, to certify unions to represent employees, to interpret and apply the Act’s provisions prohibiting certain employer and union unfair practices, and otherwise to administer the provisions of the Act.

    Officers: Elected representatives of the union such as president, vice president, secretary/treasurer, recording secretary, and trustees.

    Organizer (Union Organizer): Employee of a union or federation (usually paid but sometimes a volunteer) whose duties include recruiting new members for the union, assisting in forming unions in non-union companies, leading campaigns for recognition, etc.

    Organizing Committee: The employees in a non-union shop who are designated to represent their coworkers during the representation campaign. Organizing committee members, among other things, usually sign up their coworkers on authorization cards or petitions, hand out leaflets, attend meetings, and visit workers at home in support of the union effort.

    Picketing: A group of workers publicly protesting against an employer. Usually done during a strike in locations where support can be shown from community members, 

    Piece Work: Pay buy the number of units completed. The theory is that the faster you work, the more you will get paid. Many workers have learned that if they exceed a certain quota, the piece rate will be lowered.

    Rank and File: The members of a union.

    Ratification: Formal approval of a newly negotiated agreement by a vote of the union members affected.

    Recognition: When the employer agrees to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for employees.

    Representation Election (Election): Election conducted to determine by a majority vote of the employees in an appropriate unit (see Bargaining Unit) which, if any, union is desired as their representative. These elections are usually conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

    Scab: A universally accepted derogatory term used for a person who refuses to respect a strike and crosses a picket line in order to work at the place that is on strike. You cannot be sued for declaring such a person a scab.

    Seniority: Generally based on a workers length of service with the employer. Seniority is often used to determine promotions, recall, and transfers.

    Servicing: The day-to-day enforcement of a union contract by the union and its agents.

    Shop Steward: A worker, typically elected, who officially represents other workers on the job, enforces the contract and helps settle grievances.

    Slowdown: A reduction of output without an actual strike in order to force a concession from the employer.

    Speed-Up and Stretch Out: An increase in the amount of work an employee is expected to do without an increase in pay. The speed of the machines may be increased (speed-up) or the worker may be required to tend to a greater number of machines (stretch-out)

    Stipulation by Consent Agreement (stip): An agreement between the employer and the union, sanctioned by the NLRB, which establishes the terms of the election and scope of the bargaining unit.

    Strike: Temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees to express a grievance, enforce a demand for changes in the conditions of employment, obtain recognition, or resolve a dispute with management. 

    Unfair Labor Practice: Action by either an employer or union which violates the provisions of national and state labor relations acts, such as refusal to bargain in good faith.

    Union Dues: Monthly or weekly payments by members to their unions. The amount is set by either the constitution or bylaws, and is subject to revision by the membership. These regular payments are based on fixed amounts or upon the individual members’ hourly rate.

    Union Label or Bug: A stamp or tag on a product or card in a store or shop to show that the work is done by union labor.

    Union Local: Group of organized employees holding a charter from a national or international labor organization. A local may be confined to union members in one company or one specified locality, or it may cover multiple contracts with various employers. 

    Volunteer Organizing Committee (V.O.C.): Term sometimes used to describe union members who volunteer for the union during organizing campaigns. Volunteers may donate their time and/or be compensated for lost wages while they assist the campaign by visiting workers at their homes, leafleting, and attending meetings.


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