Glossary of labor terms

Agency shop: A union security contract clause requiring employees covered by the contract who decline to join the union (fair share), to pay a service fee to the union equal to a percentage of the union dues. This fee is intended to compensate the union, which by law must give full and equal representation to all bargaining unit members, regardless of membership status.

Appointing authority: The employer, sometimes used in reference to Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) or specific agency or department management teams.

Arbitration: A dispute resolution process where by a neutral third party (the arbitrator) hears a grievance and renders a finding of fact that is usually both final and binding on both parties. This process is used in cases when the grievance procedure, at earlier steps, has failed to produce a resolution of the union’s grievance.

Bargaining unit: Any number of employees that has sufficient commonality to constitute a unit for purposes of collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Board or similar federal, state or local agencies usually define a bargaining unit.

Board of Directors: The elected leadership of the union. The Board develops policy and procedure, and carries out the directives of the membership.

Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS): Quasi-judicial agency set up under Minnesota’s PELRA. Its duties are: to issue and adjudicate complaints charging unfair labor practices, and require such practices be stopped; and to certify bargaining representatives for employees in their dealings with employers.

Business agent: Paid professional staff of the union, representing members and working with stewards in the grievance and arbitration process.

Certification: Official recognition by some impartial labor relations board (Bureau of Mediation Services in Minnesota) that an employee organization is the exclusive representative for all of the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit for the purpose of collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining: A method of determining the terms and conditions of employment by negotiation between representatives of the employer and the union representing employees.

Contract: Also known as a collective bargaining agreement. A formal written agreement governing wages, hours and conditions of employment entered into by an employer and the union representing employees.

Delegate Assembly: The largest governing body of the union. This elected group of members is responsible for approving the budget, setting dues, approving election procedures, modifying the Constitution and/or Bylaws, and setting the legislative agenda for the union.

Dues: The fee approved and paid by members to enable their union to effectively represent them in negotiations, grievance handling, worksite issues and legislative priorities.

Duty of Fair Representation (DFR): The union’s obligation, as the exclusive bargaining representative of a group of employees, to represent all employees in the bargaining unit in grievance handling, as well as contract negotiations.

Exclusive representative: The employee organization that, as a result of certification by a labor board (BMS), has the right to be the sole collective bargaining agent of all employees in an appropriate bargaining unit.

Executive Committee: The statewide or local officers of a union who are responsible to carry out the directives of the membership when the Board of Directors is not in session.

Executive Director: The professional manager of the union’s day-to-day business affairs, including staff supervision and carrying out the approved policies and procedures of the union.

Free rider: An employee who fails to join the union that has negotiated the contract over her/his wage and working conditions, all the while benefiting from that contract.

Fringe benefits: Vacations, holidays, insurance, medical/dental benefits, pension and other economic benefits that are given to employees under the union contract in addition to direct wages.

Pay equity: A term covering the idea that female-dominated jobs or professions have been traditionally undervalued, based on levels of responsibility and required education, and that pay for these jobs should be raised to pay levels of comparable jobs that are traditionally held by men.

PELRA: Public Employee Labor Relations Act, passed into Minnesota law in 1972 allowing public employees to unionize for the purposes of negotiating and enforcing a contract governing wages, benefits, hours, work conditions and other related issues.

Representation election: A vote conducted by an appropriate labor board or agency to determine whether a majority of the employees in a previously established bargaining unit wish to be represented by a given union.

Scab: A person who continues to work, or who accepts employment, while the workers are on strike.

Seniority: Preference accorded employees, based on length of service with an employer, in such areas as layoff, recall, promotion, transfer, vacation accrual, scheduling, etc.

Service fee: An assessment of nonmembers (fair share) in a bargaining unit to help defray the union’s costs in negotiating and administering the contract.

Steward: A union member who volunteers to represent members of the union in contract enforcement issues with the employer.

Strike: Also called a job action. A concerted act by a group of employees, withholding their labor for the purpose of effecting a change in wages, fringe benefits, hours or working conditions.

Unfair labor practice: An employer or union practice forbidden by the NLRB, Civil Service Reform Act (for federal workers), or state and local laws, subject to court appeal. This oftentimes involves the employer’s efforts to avoid bargaining in good faith.

Work to rule: A literal application of work rules, contract language and statute, in which employees take their full 15-minute breaks, unpaid meal break away from the worksite, arrive and depart the worksite at the exact start and end times of the work day, etc. Employees do not give their any employer any of the extras, usually available, at no additional charge.