Glossary of Labor Terms

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AFL-CIO – Name of the federation created by merger in 1955 of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Agency shop – Form of union security under which all employees-nonmembers as well as members of the union-pay union dues as a condition of employment.

American plan – Device or slogan of an employer group in 1920s designed to counteract the labor movement and especially to inhibit the spread of closed shops.

Anti-Injunction Law (Norris-LaGuardia Act) – A federal law passed in 1932 restricting the use of injunctions by federal courts in labor disputes. Many state statutes have used this act as a model.

Anti-Strikebreaking Act (Byrnes Act) – Federal law that prohibits interstate transportation of strikebreakers. See yellow dog contracts.

Apprentice Worker – serving a special training period in preparation for admission to full status as a skilled tradesman.

Arbitration – The hearing and determination of a controversy between parties by a person or persons chosen by the parties or appointed under statutory authority instead of by a judicial tribunal.

Area agreement – Collective bargaining agreement covering a given physical or geographical region, its terms and conditions governing all companies that participate.

Association agreement – Collective bargaining agreement applicable to all members of the employer association that has negotiated it.

Authorization cards – Signed statements by employees designating a union as their bargaining agent. Baby Wagner Acts State labor relations statutes modeled on the original National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act).


Back pay – Wages due for past services, often the difference between money already received and a higher amount resulting from a change in wage rates. Under the National Labor Relations Act, “back pay” is the amount an employee discriminatorily discharged or otherwise discriminated against would have earned if no discrimination had occurred, minus earnings during the discrimination period.

Bargaining rights – (1) Right of workers to negotiate through chosen representatives concerning terms and conditions of employment: (2) The right of the union designated by a majority of the workers in the appropriate bargaining unit to represent the group in collective bargaining.

Bargaining unit – An employee group that, on the basis of related skills or common interests in working conditions, is an appropriate unit for collective bargaining.

Blacklist – List of union members circulated among employers to advise them of the union activities of job applicants.

“Blanket” injunctions – Injunctions prohibiting in the future acts or violations by an employer or a union that have not actually been committed in the case presently before the court. Blue-collar workers – Workers employed in a plant or in production, manual workers.

Boycott – A refusal to deal with an employer, involving refusals to purchase products, refusals to work or both.

Brotherhood – Term frequently appearing in the titles of labor unions, particularly the older craft groups.

Bumping – Exercise of seniority rights by longer-service workers to displace junior employees when business conditions require temporary layoffs or the discontinuance of departments, or to obtain preference over junior employees in choice of shifts, runs, dates of vacation periods and the like.

Bureau of Labor Statistics – A federal agency in the U.S. Department of Labor engaged in fact-finding in the field of labor economics. Among its functions is the compiling of the cost-of-living index.

Business agent – Local union officer who acts as executive secretary for the union, handles business matters, enrolls new members, investigates complaints of members, negotiates with employers and generally administers the union’s affairs.


Cease-and-desist orders – The final order to cease and desist from unfair labor practices that is issued in an unfair labor practice case by the National Labor Relations Board. Certification Official, formal designation of a union as the exclusive bargaining representative for employees in a particular bargaining unit.

Charge – Written statement of alleged unfair practices. Its filing with the National Labor Relations Board is the first step in an unfair labor practice proceeding.

Check-off – A system by which union dues and other assessments are deducted from the employees’ paychecks by the employer, either automatically or on specific authorization from the workers.

City central – A union council formed to correlate activities of union locals in a community.

City Industrial union council – A union body composed of the various AFL-CIO locals within a city or metropolitan area,

Clayton Act – Federal statute passed in 1914 as an amendment to the Sherman Antitrust Act, Notable for its declaration that human labor is not a “commodity or article of commerce” and for its privileging of certain labor activities.

Closed shop – A form of union security in which the employer obligates himself to hire and retain in employment only union members, declared illegal by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.

Closed union – A union that restricts membership to a relatively few, selected members of a particular craft, trade or similar group of workers.

Collective bargaining – The process of negotiating a union contract or settling grievances under the grievance procedure provided in an existing contract.

Collective bargaining agreement – The agreement reached between an employer and the union representing the employees that embodies the terms and conditions of employment agreed upon in collective bargaining. Ordinarily, the agreement is written and is effective for a definite period.

Communist affidavits – Affidavits disclaiming Communist party membership or affiliation, which, under the Taft-Hartley Act prior to the 1959 amendments, union officers were required to file before their organizations could invoke the processes of the National Labor Relations Board. The affidavit requirements were repealed by the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.

Company store – A store maintained, by an employer, which sometimes advances supplies to workers on a scrippayment basis. Company town A community that, including premises occupied by the workers, is owned by the employer.

Company union – An unaffiliated union whose membership is limited to the employees of a single company.

Complaint – Formal paper issued by National Labor Relations Board to start an unfair labor practice hearing. The complaint States the basis for the board’s jurisdiction and the alleged unfair practices.

Compulsory arbitration – Settlement of a dispute by arbitration required by law.

Compulsory unionism – Employment conditioned on union membership, as in the closed shop, union shop, maintenance of membership or preferential hiring.

Concerted activity – Activity by two or more employees as a group, which, if engaged in for mutual aid or protection, is a right guaranteed to employees by the National Labor Relations Act and protected against coercion by employers or unions.

Conciliation Attempt – by third person, a conciliator, to aid the settling of a labor dispute by hearing both sides and offering advice and nonbinding suggestions.

Conspiracy doctrine – Early labor law theory that viewed sell-organization of workers as a violation of common law prohibitions of criminal or civil conspiracy. Cooling-off period Period of time that must elapse before a strike or lockout may begin. See also “sixty-day notice,”

Cost-of-living adjustinent(COLA) – A provision in a collective bargaining agreement that adjusts wage increases tc fluctuations in the cost of living during the term of the contract

Cost-of-living index – The Bureau of Labor Statistics “Consumers’ Price Index for Moderate-Income Families in Large Cities,” based on retail prices of consumer items in a representative group of large cities

Craft union – A union whose membership is restricted to workers employing a particular skill, but admits workers having that skill regardless of the industry in which they work.


Davis-Bacon Act – Federal law that provides for payment of minimum wages by contractors engaged in construction, alteration or repair of public buildings. These wage rates are fixed by the secretary of labor

Dead time – Time during which production employees wait for materials or for machinery adjustments and for which pay is usually provided.

Decertification – Removal by the National Labor Relations Board of a union’s certification as exclusive bargaining representative

Department of Labor – Federal agency established in 1913 to further the welfare of wage earners.

Discriminatory discharge – Discharge for union activities or membership.

Dispute – Disagreement between an employer and employees that is of such proportions as to warrant referral to an arbitrator for settlement or that threatens or causes a work stoppage, See also “jurisdictional dispute.”

Docking – Deducting penalties from an employee’s wages for tardiness, absence, spoilage, etc..


Economic strikes – Strikes called to force changes in wages, hours or other working conditions rather than in protest against unfair labor practices.

Employer’s last-offer ballot – A Taft-Hartley Act authorized election that is conducted by the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to give workers an opportunity to vote, before striking, on acceptance or rejection of an employer’s final offer.

Escalator clause – Union contract provision for the raising and lowering of wages according to changes in the cost-of-living index or similar standard.

Escape clause – A provision in maintenance-of-membership union contracts giving union members an “escape period” during which they may resign from membership. Members who do not resign must remain members for the duration of the contract.

Exclusive bargaining rights – Right of the union designated as bargaining representative by a majority of the employees in the appropriate bargaining unit to bargain collectively for all employees in the unit.


Fair Labor Standards Act – The federal wage-hour law that establishes minimum wage and Overtime pay requirements and child-labor restrictions.

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service – Independent agency created by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 to attempt to settle labor disputes that substantially affect interstate commerce. It is a successor to and took over the functions of the U.S. Conciliation Service.

Free riders – Term applied by unions to nonmember employees who secure whatever benefits are derived from the union’s activities without paying union dues.


General strike – A strike by all organized workers in a city or country.

Geographic wage differentials – Differences in wage rates based upon locations of plants or industries.

Grievance procedure – Procedure for settling disputes, either established by the employer or provided for in a collective bargaining agreement.

Grievances – Workers’ dissatisfaction-complaints-that charge a violation of a collective bargaining agreement or of traditional work practices.

Guaranteed wage plans – Systems under which the employer states, in advance, that for a specific period he will pay a predetermined amount to, or retain in service at some employment or in any event with pay, a previously specified number of his workers, whether or not they have work to do.


Hatch Act – Federal law that, as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act, forbids corporations or unions from making contributions or expenditures in connection with elections for certain federal offices.

Health and welfare plan – Plan providing insurance payments to employees in case of sickness or accident.

Hiring hall – -Headquarters from which requests for workers are filled. A hiring hall may be operated by a union alone or by an employer and union jointly.

Hot cargo clauses – Clauses in union contracts permitting employees to refuse to handle or work with goods shipped from a struck plant or to perform services benefiting an employer listed on a union unfair list.

Hot goods Goods – Goods manufactured in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s wage, hour or child labor provisions.


Illegal strike – A strike that is called in violation of law, such as a strike that ignores cooling-off period restrictions or some absolute statutory ban, or a strike that disregards the no-strike agreement of the union.

Improvement factor – Annual increase in wages given under employer-union contract, representing an agreed-upon amount as employees’ share of benefits resulting from increased productivity in the economy.

Incentive wages – Method of wage payment under which workers receive extra pay for extra production.

Independent union – A labor organization, not company dominated, that is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO and remains independent of any federation.

Industrial union – A union whose membership includes any worker in a particular industry, regardless of the particular skills the workers are exercising..

Informational picketing – Picketing to publicize either the existence of a labor dispute or information concerning the dispute.

Injunction – A court order that either imposes restraints upon action or, if in mandatory form, directs that action be taken, and that is, in either case, backed by the court’s power to hold disobedient parties in contempt.

Interference – Under the National Labor Relations Act, action or non-action by employers or unions that infringes upon the rights of employees to join together or to refrain from combining for purposes of self-organization and collective bargaining.


Job action – A concerted action by employees on the job that puts pressure on an employer without striking. Slowdowns, in which workers deliberately reduce productivity, and work-to-rule actions, in which employees perform the minimum of what is officially required of them, are examples.

Journeyman – Workers in a traditional craft who have gone through an apprenticeship and mastered the type of work involved in the craft: qualified craftsman.

Jurisdictional dispute – A conflict involving a dispute between two unions as to which shall represent a group of employees in collective bargaining or as to which union’s members shall perform a certain type of work.


Knights of Labor – One of the first large American unions or federations of unions.


Labor dispute – A controversy concerning terms or conditions of employment. The term is expressly defined in various laws, such as the Norris-LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act.

Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (Taft-Hartley Act) – Federal law that amends the National Labor Relations Act to regulate some union activities, authorizes damage suits for collective bargaining violations and certain strikes and boycotts and sets up procedures for trying to settle national emergency strikes.

Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (Landrum-Griffin) – Federal statute that imposes controls on unions to protect rights of individual members; requires the filing of reports by unions, employers and labor relations consultants: and amends the National Labor Relations Act to impose tighter restrictions on strikes, picketing and boycotts.

“Little Steel” formula – A method of adjusting wages to offset increased living costs authorized by the National War Labor Board in World War II, named for the pattern established in settlement with steel companies other than U.S. Steel, “Big Steel.”

Local union – The basic unit in union organization. The local adopts its own constitution and by-laws and elects its own officers, but it is chartered by the international with which it is affiliated.

Lockout – Shutdown of a plant by the employer to discourage union membership or activity or to force employees to meet the demands or economic terms of the employer.


Maintenance of membership – A union security system under which an employee is not required to join the union, but if he does, or, if already a member and if he fails to resign during the escape period, he binds himself to remain a member for the duration of the union contract.

Majority representation – Designation of a union by a majority of employees in a bargaining unit or by a majority of employees voting in a representation election, as the bargaining agent for all employees within the unit.

Management rights or prerogatives – The assortment of rights involving hiring, production scheduling, pricing, etc., that are generally reserved to management and are not proper subjects for collective bargaining.

Master agreement – A union contract usually associated with industry-wide or near-industry-wide bargaining. Usually the master agreement settles major issues but does not necessarily control all points, thus leaving room for local adjustments.

Mediation – The efforts of a third party to suggest to the parties to a labor dispute possible solutions for their controversy.

Minimum wage – The rate of pay established by statute or by minimum wage order as the lowest wage that may be paid whether for a particular type or to a particular class of workers or to any worker.

Minority union – A union that has members in a bargaining unit but not enough to give it majority representation.


National emergency strikes – Strikes that would imperil national health or safety and are, therefore, subject to special cooling-off procedures under the Taft-Hartley Act.

National Labor-Management Panel – Joint labor management body created to advise the Federal Mediation and Cancellation Service in the avoidance, mediation and voluntary adjustment of labor disputes.

National Labor Relations Act – Federal statute enacted in 1935, originally known as the Wagner Act and now a part of the Taft-Hartley Act, that guarantees to employees in industries affecting interstate commerce the right to self organization, to bargain collectively and to engage in concerted activities, Amended in 1947 by the Labor Management Relations Act and in 1959 by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.

National Labor Relations Board – Board established by National Labor Relations Act to conduct representation elections and hearings and determine unfair labor practice charges arising under the statute.

No-raiding pact – Agreement between unions not to seek to organize workers within each other’s specified jurisdiction.


Open shop – A shop in which union membership is not required as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment.

Organizational picketing – Picketing to persuade employees to join a union or to accept the union as bargaining agent. Organizational picketing is subject to certain restrictions under the 1959 amendments to the National Labor Relations Act.

Outlaw strikes – Work stoppages that lack the approval of the national or international union and usually violate either a collective bargaining agreement or the union constitution.


Picketing – Union’s patrolling alongside the premises of a business to organize the workers, to gain recognition as a bargaining agent or to publicize a labor dispute with the owner or with whom the owner deals.

Piecework pay – Wages paid on the basis of the number of units produced rather than the time spent on production

Preferential hiring – System under which employers agree to hire only union members as long as the union is able to fill demands for workers.

Premium pay – An extra amount over straight-time rates sometimes a flat sum, sometimes a percentage of the wage rate paid to workers to compensate them for inconvenient hours, overtime, hazardous or unpleasant conditions or for their undesirable circumstances. See also definition of “shift differential.”

Public Contracts Act – Federal statute fixing wage, hour and working conditions for most federal supply contracts in excess of $10,000.




Raiding – A union’s attempt to enroll workers belonging to or represented by another union.

Railway Labor Act of 1926 – Federal statute recognizing the right of collective bargaining in the railroad and airline industries.

Real wages – Wages in terms of goods and services that those wages will buy.

Recognition – Employer acceptance of a union as the exclusive bargaining representative for all employees in a bargaining unit.

Recognition picketing – Picketing to persuade or coerce an employer to recognize a union as the bargaining agent of his employees. Recognition picketing is subject to certain restrictions under the 1959 amendments to the Nat ional Labor Relations Act.

Reinstatement – Placing a worker back in a job he has lost without loss of seniority or other job benefits. Usually ordered by the National Labor Relations Board, together with back pay, as a remedy in discrimination cases.

Reopening clause – Clause in a collective bargaining agreement providing for reopening negotiations as to wage rates, etc., during the term of the agreement.

“Right-to-work” law – State law prohibiting a union shop, closed shop or any other union-security arrangement that requires employees to join a union as a condition of retaining employment.

Run-off election – A second election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board in which no choice receives a majority of the ballots in the first poll. The run-off allows a selection between the choices receiving the largest and second largest number of votes cast in the original balloting.


Scab – A union term generally applied to a worker who refuses to join coworkers in a strike. Sometimes applied to members of a non-striking union who pass through a striking union’s picket line.

Secondary activities – Strikes, picketing or other activities directed by a union against an employer with whom it has no dispute in order to persuade or coerce that employer to stop doing business with, or to bring other pressure against, another employer with whom the union does have a dispute..

Secondary boycott – Refusal to deal with a neutral party in a labor dispute, usually accompanied by a demand that he bring pressure upon the employer involved in the dispute to accede to the boycott’s terms.

Seniority System – granting preference in job security, promotions or other rewards to employees in accordance with their length of service.

Shift differential – Premium paid to workers on other than the day shift to compensate them for their inconvenient working hours, See also “premium pay.

Shop steward – Union member ordinarily elected to represent workers in a particular shop or department. The shop steward collects dues, solicits new members, announces meetings, and receives, investigates and attempts the adjustment of grievances.

Sit-down strike – A strike in which the workers refuse to work but stay inside the employer’s premises.

Sixty-day notice – The notice that, under the Taft-Hartley Act, must be given by either party to a collective bargaining agreement when desiring to reopen or terminate it, no strike or lockout may be begun during the sixty days.

Strike – A concerted and sustained refusal by workers to perform some or all of the services for which they were hired.

Strike benefits – Sums paid by a union to its striking members, and sometimes to nonmember strikers, to help finance them during a strike.

Strikebreaker – Workers hired during a strike primarily for the purpose of defeating the strike.

Strike vote – A vote conducted among employees in the bargaining unit on the question of whether they should go out on strike.

Supplemental unemployment benefits (SUB) – Payments by employers to laid-off workers (usually through trust funds) to supplement state unemployment compensation benefits.

Sweetheart contract – Term of derision for an agreement negotiated by an employer and a union granting concessions to the employer or the union, the usual purpose being to keep a rival union out or to promote the individual welfare of the union officers rather than that of the employees represented.

Sympathetic strike – Concerted work stoppage by employees of Employer A to express sympathy for striking employees of Employer B and to exert indirect pressure on B.




Unfair labor practice-proceeding – National Labor Relations Board proceeding to determine alleged employer or union unfair labor practices.

Unfair labor practices – Those employer or union activities that are classified as unfair by federal or state labor relations acts.

Unfair lists – A boycott device used by unions, involving the circulation, by publication in union papers or by other means, of the names of employers with whom a union is disputing or with whom the union seeks to force to take certain action, such as ceasing to deal with a party to a labor dispute.

Unilateral action – Action by only one of the parties involved in the collective bargaining relationship. Often it is designed to undercut the other side.

Union security clause – Provision in a union contract requiring employees, as a condition of employment, to maintain union membership or pay union dues or requiring an employer to check off dues from employees’ wages.

Union shop – Form of union security that employees must, within a certain time after they are hired or after a compulsory-unionism contract is executed, join the union and maintain their membership as a condition of employment.




Wage differentials – Different rates of pay for the same general type of work, the variations resulting from differences in conditions under which the work is done, differences in performance standards or differences in the types of workers.

Whipsawing – Successive surprise strikes by a union against one after another of the various employers in an industry or in an employer’s association so that no employer knows which one will be “sawed off” next.

Wildcat strike – A strike called without the consent of the union.




Yellow dog contracts – Agreements signed by workers as a condition of employment in which they promise not to join or remain in a union. The National Labor Relations Act, the Norris-LaGuardia Act and the Railway Labor Act all prohibit them.


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