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Glossary

Key Terms

What is Arbitration?

Arbitration is a method of settling disputes that avoids a formal court proceeding. When two or more parties agree to go to arbitration, an impartial arbitrator or panel of arbitrators is given the power to make what is often a binding decision. The process of arbitration usually involves a hearing with testimony and legal argument, after which the arbitrator renders a decision. This is a commonly used method of resolving disputes between labor and management or between an employee and management.

Read AFFT’s stories about arbitration here.

What is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process by which an employer and a group of employees, usually through a union representative, enter into contract negotiations over wages, benefits, and working conditions. The contract that results from these negotiations is called a Collective Bargaining Agreement. If a union represents a group of employees, it is authorized to speak for employees and can bargain and even enter into a Collective Bargaining Agreement with or without employees’ approval.
 
Federal law dictates the collective bargaining process for federal unionized public sector workers and private sector workers, but state law determines the process for state and local public employees. Because of this, collective bargaining varies state by state. Examples of variations include the scope of what the parties can negotiate over and how disputes are resolved. Some states prohibit collective bargaining in the public sector altogether.

Read AFFT’s stories about collective bargaining here.

What are Collective Bargaining Agreements?

Collective Bargaining Agreements are contracts between an employer and a union or group of employees in one or more bargaining units and typically contain details on wages, benefits, and working conditions. The contract usually has a set number of years that it will be in force. The agreements often include specific policies and procedures that dictate how employees and management must act on a variety of issues, including promotions, overtime, the grievance process, union membership requirements, employee discipline, and other working conditions. In a few states, collective bargaining agreements supersede conflicting state law.

Read AFFT’s stories about collective bargaining agreements here.

What is Duty of Fair Representation?

Duty of fair representation is the term used to describe a union’s legal responsibility to represent all members of a bargaining unit equally, reasonably, and fairly, whether they are union members or not. The union could be found in breach of this duty if, for example, it treats an employee differently based on his or her membership status, race, religion, age, or political beliefs. It could also breach the duty of fair representation if it acts arbitrarily, unfairly, or not in good faith.
This obligation arises out of a union’s position as exclusive representative in a bargaining unit, which gives the union the right to represent all employees in that unit, even if an employee did not vote to join the union or chooses to renounce his or her union membership.
 
Supreme Court precedent requires that a union must be reasonable, avoid arbitrary decision making, must operate in good faith, and cannot discriminate against employees who choose not to join or belong to the union. See Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171 (1967).
 
Some state laws attempt to limit this legal responsibility in the wake of Janus v. AFSCME, which said that nonmembers do not have to pay fees to the union. In New York, for example, state law appears to allow unions to deny certain services to employees who have not joined the union. However, New York’s law has been challenged in court as unconstitutional.

What is Exclusive Representation?

Exclusive Representation is the term used to describe a union’s legal right to represent all employees in a bargaining unit, even if an employee did not vote to join the union, or if an employee chooses to renounce his or her union membership.
 
Unions want the right of exclusive representation because it gives them monopoly power in negotiations with management. Under exclusive representation, workers cannot represent themselves in negotiations with management over wages or working conditions, belong to a different union than their coworkers, or choose another agent to represent them.
 
However, this also means the union representing a bargaining unit must bargain on behalf of all members of the unit, whether they are union members or not. This is called the “duty of fair representation.” The union must be reasonable, avoid arbitrary decision making, must operate in good faith, and cannot discriminate against employees who choose not to join or belong to the union. See Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171 (1967).

Read AFFT’s stories about collective exclusive representation here.

What is a Grievance?

A grievance is a complaint or claim made by an employee or labor organization against an employer. The complaint typically alleges that the employer has not followed an agreement or written policy, or that the employer has not followed the law as it pertains to conditions of employment.
 
Grievance claims are often based on conditions laid out in a collective bargaining agreement. Most collective bargaining agreements also contain procedures that must be followed when a grievance is filed.
 
Among other issues, grievance complaints can involve concerns about salary, promotions, harassment, or discrimination.

Read AFFT’s stories about grievances here.

What is Liability Insurance?

In the case of public employees, “liability insurance” may refer to coverage for employees who are sued for possibly negligent behavior in the workplace. The most frequently accessed liability insurance is typically provided directly by employers. Some school districts in Pennsylvania, for example, purchase general liability insurance to protect teachers for claims made against them for actions taken during the workday.

In New York, many public employees are indemnified by their employer provided the actions of the employee that led to a claim took place while the employee was acting within the scope of his public employment or duties. Employees should check with their employers to see what, if any, insurance or indemnification their employer provides. Unions typically provide additional insurance for their members, but this kind of liability insurance can also be purchased directly by employees from other vendors, often at a much lower cost than what the union charges in dues.

Read AFFT’s stories about liability insurance here.