The Truth About Unions

A Glossary of Labor Relations Terms


AFL-CIO – American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. A labor federation of U.S.-based unions (currently comprised of 56 unions).

Agency Fees – A fee charged to a worker who refuses to join a union as a full member but, due to a union income security clause, is still required to pay a union as a condition of employment. To read more about union income security clauses, go here.

Assessment – An assessment is a fee charged to union members in addition to their normal dues. While some unions may allow members to vote on special assessments, other unions may pass assessments on their members without a direct vote of the affected membership

Blitz – A union organizing tactic where a union swarms a town or city (often with out-of-town organizers) to conduct home visits on targeted employees.

Boycott – A tactic sometimes used during a labor dispute wherein a union attempts to get a company’s customers to cease using the targeted company’s services or buying a company’s products. Boycotts can have a negative impact on both the targeted company, as well as its employees and sometimes result in layoffs.

Bylaws – A set of union rules that apply to union members at the local union level. Typically, local union bylaws are a supplemental set of rules to the international union’s constitution.  For more information on union constitutions, go here.

Collective Bargaining Representative – This term is used to describe a union or any other person(s) or entity which negotiates with an employer over employees’ wages, hours of work, or other terms and conditions of employment. Once certified, the collective bargaining representative (i.e., a union) represents all employees in the bargaining unit, regardless of their individual wishes, in all matters pertaining to their employment.

Concessionary Bargaining – A form of labor negotiations wherein the union accepts (or offers), on behalf of the employees it represents, what are known as concessions or ‘give-backs.’ For employees, concessions (or give-backs) usually translate into lower wages and/or benefits. During the period of industrial growth in the mid-20th century, concessionary bargaining was not a common practice. However, beginning in the 1970s through today, concessionary bargaining has become more and more prevalent during labor negotiations, as some unions have been willing negotiate lower wages and/or benefits for their members, for various economic reasons or to avoid a long and costly labor dispute.

The NLRB has affirmed that: “[C]ollective bargaining is potentially hazardous for employees and that as a result of such negotiations employees might possibly wind up with less benefits after unionization than before (Coach & Equipment Sales Corp; 228 NLRB 441).” [Emphasis added.]

Contract – Upon completion of the bargaining (or negotiation) process, if an agreement is reached, the result of the agreement (whether positive or negative changes for employees are made, or no changes at all) is put into the written form of a binding contract. Union contracts are binding not only on employers, but on unions and employees as well.

Dues – A fee paid to a union, usually on a monthly basis, by members to a union. Union dues are what a union uses to run its business, to pay its officers, union staff, their transportation, office buildings, union halls, as well as other miscellaneous expenses.

Dues Check-Off Clause – This is a union contract clause which allows a union to collect dues or service fees from the employees it represents by having the employer deduct that money from the paychecks of employees who authorize it. The money taken from the employees’ paychecks is then sent by the employer directly to the union.

Fees – Fees are money paid by members to a union for a variety of reasons.  For example, most union swill charge initiation fees to join the union.  Some unions will charge re-initiation fees, as well as other types of fees such as transfer fees (to transfer to another local union), withdrawal fees (to become either an inactive member or to withdraw from the union), etcetera.

Fine (as in Union Fine) – As most unions have rules and regulations that all union members must follow to maintain membership in good standing, if a union member violates any of the union’s rules and regualtions (usually found in a union’s constitution), the member may be placed on trial by the union and, if found guilty, may be fined money.  For more on union fines, go here.

Good-Faith Collective Bargaining – Bargaining in “good faith” can be simply defined as the employer and union 1) meeting at reasonable times and places and 2) with an “open mind” (i.e., the intention to agree). Both unions and employers are required by law to negotiate in “good faith.” This does not mean, however, that the parties must agree. In fact, the National Labor Relations Act specifically states that the obligation to bargain “does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession (National Labor Relations Act).”

As a result of good-faith collective bargaining, employees may wind up with higher wages and/or better benefits, the same wages and/or benefits, or even reduced wages and/or benefits.

Indeed, the National Labor Relations Board has affirmed that: “There is, of course, no obligation on the part of an employer to contract to continue all existing benefits, nor is it an unfair labor practice to offer reduced benefits.” (Midwest Instruments, 133 NLRB NO. 115)

Hiring Hall – Similar to a temporary employment agency, union hiring halls are primarily found among unions in the construction industry.  A union hiring hall is where a union “hires out” its members to employers who have work. Once the work or job assignment is completed, the union member returns to the hiring hall, places his name on the waiting list to be sent out for other work.

Note: A union’s waiting list of unemployed members is also commonly referred to as “the bench.”

Impasse – At a point in negotiations, usually at the final stages, when neither party will make further movement and no agreement has been reached, either party may declare that an “impasse” has occurred.

In fact, the United States Supreme Court has stated: “Indeed, as a general matter, labor law often limits employers to four options at impasse: (1) maintain the status quo, (2) implement their last offer, (3) lock out their workers (and either shut down or hire temporary replacements), or (4) negotiate separate interim agreements with the union.” Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231

Implementation (of contract) – At the point of bona fide impasse, when an employer has made its last, best and final offer to the union, and the union does not agree to it, the employer can legally implement (or impose) that offer, thereby “forcing” terms and conditions of employment on the union and its members.

As an example, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that: “Where good faith bargaining has not resolved a key issue [such as wages] and where there are no definite plans for further efforts to break the deadlock, the [National Labor Relations] Board is warranted, (and perhaps sometimes even required) to make a determination that an impasse existed.” And so, the court upheld an NLRB ruling that the employer lawfully reduced wages after reaching a bargaining impasse over wages with the union. Teamsters Local 745 v. NLRB, US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, 61 LRRM 2065)

Initiation Fee – Money paid by a worker to a union to become a union member.  Because the majority of today’s union members are mandated to pay a union as a condition of employment (see Union Income Security Clause), initiation fees are often in excess of $100 (and up to $1000 or more) to join a union.

Lockout – In a sometimes-used employer approach during union negotiations, the employer may prohibit or “lock out” its employees from work. During a lockout, an employer may use temporary replacement workers in place of its locked out employees.

Management Rights – This is a union contract clause stating that management has the right to run its business without interference from the union. Management rights provisions are negotiated into nearly all labor agreements. They specify those areas which are under the exclusive jurisdiction of management and normally not subject to any grievance procedure. These areas typically include, among other things, the right to hire, layoff, promote, establish the types of work to be performed and the means and method for performing it, direct the workforce, establish work rules, assign work, establish performance standards, subcontract work, and open, close and/or move facilities.  To read more about Management Rights, go here.

Non-Right-To-Work State – This is a state that allows an employer and a union to agree to a “union (income) security clause” which requires employees to pay dues (or agency fees) to a union in order to keep their jobs. If the employee refuses to pay, the union can force the employer to fire the employee. There are, at present, 22 Non-Right-to-Work states.  For more about Right-to-Work vs. Non-Right-to-Work, go here.

Permanent Replacement Worker – If a union calls a strike in order to obtain some economic concession from the employer, such as higher wages, shorter hours of work, or different terms or conditions of employment, the striking employees are “economic strikers.” The employer is legally permitted to hire other employees to permanently replace the strikers.

If permanent replacement workers are hired, and the union or striking employees make an “unconditional offer” to return to work, the strikers who have been replaced are not entitled to get their jobs back at that time. Instead, they are placed on a preferential rehire list, to be hired only when an opening occurs, if they are qualified for it.

Right-to-Work State – Under the National Labor Relations Act, states are allowed to enact “right-to-work” laws, which outlaw so-called “union (income) security clauses,” or the requirement of an employee to pay union dues (or agency fees) to retain his/her job. There are currently 28 Right-to-Work States. For more information, go here.

Sacrificed member – This is term used to describe a union member who is “sacrificed” to the interests of the union. As an example, one now-defunct* union constitution stated: “In the event that a Local, upon investigation, certifies, and the International President finds, that a member has been discharged because of any activity in advancement of the interests of the International or Local or because of his refusal to disregard any law or his oath or obligation of membership, he shall be deemed to be a sacrificed member….” [Source: Article XXV, GCIU International Constitution]

*Note: The Graphic Communications International Union (GCIU) merged into the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in January 2005

Salting – Salting occurs when paid union employees or organizers, or union members, apply for and get jobs with a targeted employer who is usually unaware of the salt’s true motive, which is to unionize the employees of the “salted” employer. This also occurs when the salts openly state their union affiliation so that, if the employer refuses to consider or hire them, they or their union can claim that they were discriminate against because of their union status.

Status Quo – A legal term which means things “stay the same.” While a union and employer are negotiating for a new contract (or re-negotiating an existing contract), all wages, hours of work, and other terms and conditions of employment (e.g., benefits) remain the same. This means that, as a general rule, nothing changes (for better or worse) until completion of the bargaining process, no matter how long that process takes, whether 3 months, 6 months, a year or even longer.

Strike – Usually, the refusal of unionized employees to perform work, normally occurring when the union and employer reach an impasse in negotiations. Often, strikes are accompanied by picketing and sometimes violence or other misconduct.

Temporary Replacement Worker – During a labor dispute (whether a strike or lockout), an employer may hire temporary replacement workers to fill the jobs of striking workers until the strike ends.

Union Authorization Card – Typically a union authorization card is a small 3 inch X 5 inch card that look like a magazine subscription card.  The union authorization card is the union’s only legitimate means of becoming a group of employees’ collective-bargaining representative.  To read more about union authorization cards, go here.

Union Mole – An individual who is working for and on behalf of a union and is paid to unionize the unsuspecting employer’s employees.  To read more about union moles and their tactics, go here.

Union Organizer – A union organizer is an individual who is hired by a union to unionize workers.  As a salesperson for a union, a union organizer’s sole job is to convince workers to turn their rights over to the union.  For more about union organizers, go here.

Union Shop (or Union Income Security) Clause – This is a union contract clause that requires all employees represented by the union to pay dues or service fees to the union in order to keep their jobs. Union security clauses are typically very high during negotiations, and some unions will strike over them.  To read more about union (income) security clauses, go here.

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