UNION 101: Glossary of Terms

Whether you’re new to the union or have been a long-time member, here’s a glossary that will help give you a better understanding of labor terms.

Arbitration: To resolve disputes between an employee and an employer, a union contract or work rules establishes a formal procedure to reach a mutually agreed upon solution. That’s called a grievance. The worker initiates a grievance through the union’s steward, who represents the employees. If the grievance is not resolved, the union may be able to appeal to a professional arbitrator selected jointly by the union and management – a process called grievance arbitration.

Bargaining Unit: A group of workers who bargain collectively with the employer. The unit may include all the workers in a single location or in a number of locations, 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.

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. (See Memorandum of Understanding, aka MOU)

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Federal law establishing a basic floor of 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave in any 12-month period to deal with birth or adoption of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a “serious health condition”, or to receive care when the employee is unable to work because of his or her own “serious health condition.”

Free Riders: Used in an open shop to refer to non-union members who receive all the benefits derived from collective bargaining without paying union dues or equivalent fees.

Grievance: A dispute between a union member and management over a workplace situation or alleged contract violation that is handled through a procedure outlined in the contract or a state law or regulation. The grievance system facilitates your right to due process.

Grievance Procedure: A formal method for working out the details of a labor contract so that minor disputes will not continue to rankle between the parties.

Job Action: A concerted activity by employees designed to put pressure on the employer without resorting to a strike. Examples include: wearing T-shirts, buttons, or hats with union slogans, holding parking lot meetings, collective refusal of voluntary overtime, reporting to work in a group, petition signing, jamming phone lines, etc.

Member Connection: This resource is another way for SEIU721 members to get thorough, timely answers to any work questions. Member Connection organizers can be reached by phone, e-mail or in-person visits at our main headquarters. The Member Connection phone number is (877) 721-4YOU (4968) and the MC office is open Monday-Friday from 8 AM to 6 PM and on Thursdays from 9 AM to 6 PM. It is closed on weekends and major holidays. Emails will be responded to within 48 hours.

MOU: Memorandum of Understanding (also known as a Memorandum of Agreement or MOA). This is the contract, or collective bargaining agreement between the Union and an employer.

National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA): Federal law guaranteeing workers the right to participate in unions without management reprisals. It was modified in 1947 with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, and modified again in 1959 by the passage of the Landrum-Griffin Act.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): Agency created by the National Labor Relations Act, 1935, and continued through subsequent amendments, 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.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA): The Law which authorizes the OSHA agency to set standards, obligates employers to provide a safe workplace, and provides for enforcement of the standards. The law encourages the states to develop their own safety laws, which displace the federal law.

Organizing: Drawing on the power of members’ unified strength, this is the action by which members lobby for changes, seek improvements in their working conditions, or work for any other important step that members determine is a priority.

Public Employees Relations Board (PERB): California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is the administrative agency charged with administering the seven collective bargaining statutes covering employees of California’s public schools, colleges, and universities, employees of the State of California, employees of California local public agencies (cities, counties and special districts), trial court employees, trial court interpreters, and supervisory employees of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. PERB makes determinations about which units are appropriate for collective bargaining; conducts elections to determine whether employees in a given unit want to be unionized and engage in collective bargaining; and investigates, holds hearings, and makes decisions on whether or not unfair labor practices have been committed.

Phone Banking: The organized telephoning of large numbers of members to inform them of a union policy or action or to gather information. This is often done by volunteers who come into the union hall and telephone members during a certain time period.

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

“Right to Work” State: States where unions can’t negotiate agreements that require all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement to pay for the costs of union representation. Such agreements eliminate “free riders” who enjoy the benefits of an agreement without supporting or joining the union.

Shop Steward: A worker who is also a union representative and is authorized to settle minor disputes between workers and managers based on an interpretation of union contract.

Strike: A strike occurs when a team of people withhold labor in order to improve their working conditions. Strikes are often the most impactful way working people can come together to influence terms and conditions of their employment.

Unfair Labor Practices: Those employer or union activities classified as “unfair” by federal or state labor relations acts. Under the NLRA, employer unfair labor practices include employer threats against protected collective activity, employer domination of unions, discrimination against employees for collective activity, and employer failure to bargain in good faith with union representatives. Union unfair labor practices include failure to represent all members of the bargaining unit and failure to bargain in good faith, secondary boycotts.

Union: A union simply refers to an organization of two or more employees who band together as a single entity to address hours, pay, and working conditions with their employer. Unions are democratic institutions with leadership at the national, regional, and local levels elected by members. Like democratic nations, unions are guided by constitutions that were drafted and ratified by their members. The constitutions formalize policies to govern how a union operates, detailing everything from leadership compensation to processes for settling internal disagreements.

Union Buster: A professional consultant or consulting firm that provides tactics and strategies for employers trying to prevent unionization or decertify unions.

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. The “bug” is the printer’s symbol.

Weingarten Rights: The rights of employees covered by the NLRA to request union representation during investigatory interviews if they reasonably believe that the interview could result in their being disciplined. Weingarten rights also guarantee the rights of union representatives to assist and counsel employees during interviews that could lead to discipline.

Worksite Organizer: WSO’s are a go-to resource for members. They assist workers with everything from filing grievances to helping them enforce their union contracts. Worksite organizers also mobilize workers around worksite issues, politics, public policy, and other issues affecting the lives of workers; develop rank-and-file leadership among workers; and carry out all other programs of the union in the field. In short, your WSO is there for you!

Categories: UNION 101
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Luz Bacilio

We need a union representative for Challenger at Lancaster.


Hi Luz,
For issues like this please contact Member Connection 877-721-4YOU