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Labor Terms A – Z

This Labor Term Glossary is a resource for members to gain a better understanding of Union functions and procedures.


ARBITRATION: Where it is available, a method of settling a labor-management dispute by having an impartial third party hold a formal hearing, take testimony and render a decision. The decision is usually binding upon the parties.

BARGAINING AGENT: Union certified 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 RIGHTS: The rights outlined in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Rights of workers to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment through chosen representatives. The bargaining agent is designated by a majority of the workers in a bargaining unit.

BARGAINING UNIT: A group of employees in a given workplace who have a sufficient similarity of interest to constitute a unit for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employer. A bargaining unit is usually defined by the National Labor Relations Board, or similar federal, state or local agency.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: Negotiations between an Employer and Union, representing a group of employees, that determines the conditions of employment. The result of the Collective Bargaining Procedure is called the contract. Collective Bargaining is governed by Federal and State Statutory Laws, Administration Agency Regulations, and Judicial decisions.

CONTRACT: An Agreement in writing between the Union, acting as bargaining agent and the Employer, covering wages, hours, working conditions, fringe benefits, rights of workers and union, and procedures to be followed in settling disputes and grievances.

GRIEVANCE: A formal complaint, usually lodged by an employee or the union, alleging a misinterpretation or improper application of one or more terms in a collective bargaining contract. The method for dealing with grievances is through a grievance procedure negotiated in the union contract. If a grievance cannot be settled at the supervisory level, it can be appealed to higher levels of management.

GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE: The steps established in a collective bargaining contract for the handling of grievances made by or on behalf of employees.

MADE WHOLE: A catchall phrase used in grievance and other legal action where a remedy is sought from an employer. Often used in discharge and discipline cases where the union seeks to have a worker, who had been wrongly discharged or disciplined, returned to work and reimbursed all wages, benefits, or other conditions lost due to an employer’s unjustified action.

RANK AND FILE: The members of a union. This term does not apply to the leadership of a union.

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

SHOP STEWARD/STEWARD: The union representative of a group of fellow employees who carries out the duties of the union within the workplace. EXAMPLE: Handling grievances, recruiting new members and monitoring compliance with the contract. The steward usually is either elected by other union members or appointed by higher union officials. The steward usually remains an employee while handling union business. Some release time (with or without pay) may be available to stewards under specific language in many collective bargaining contracts.

UNION REPRESENTATIVE (LABOR REPRESENTATIVE): A full-time representative of a local union whose job it is to represent members in the local.

WEINGARTEN RIGHTS: The rights of employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act 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 which could lead to discipline.