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Glossary

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 an Authorization Card?

An authorization card is a card that is filled out by workers who are attempting to organize a union in the workplace. The card specifically names the union and notes that the union is the employee’s agent for collective bargaining purposes. The card must be signed and dated to be valid.

What is a Bargaining Unit?

A bargaining unit is a group of unionized workers that has a specific collective bargaining agreement with an employer. The union negotiates the bargaining unit’s conditions with the employer. The bargaining unit may include only one work location, or it may include several. The unit can also include workers of a specific trade or within a specific department or division within a company or government agency. Sometimes, however, the construction of a bargaining unit contains many different types of employees. One example could be a bargaining unit that contains electricians, mechanics, and janitors, at multiple locations across a county. Most notably, some employees within a bargaining unit may not be union members, but they still must be represented by the union during collective bargaining and the grievance process.

What is a Benefit Fund?

A benefit fund is a set of funds that deliver pension or health benefits to union members, with separate funds for each benefit. In some states, a benefit fund is called a trust, a union benefit fund, or benefit trust fund. An example of a benefit fund would be a union’s 401(k) benefit fund.

What is Blocking?

Blocking is also known as the blocking charge rule. When unions file unfair labor practice charges against an employer, this may result in the NLRB “blocking” an election, allowing unions to delay decertification elections which unions fear they will lose. However, the NLRB changed its blocking charge rule in 2020, ensuring that elections are no longer “blocked,” but instead undergo either a vote-and-count or a vote-and-impound procedure, depending on the charges. The new rule also limits the situations that give rise to a “blocked” election, as well as placing limits on how long the vote count can be delayed.

What is a Boycott?

A boycott is a punitive ban from a union to encourage union workers to not buy or use products or services. In a primary boycott, the union encourages members to boycott products or services from a specific employer. An example of a primary boycott is not purchasing equipment or tools from a manufacturer due to the union’s labor dispute with the manufacturer. In a secondary boycott, the union encourages union workers to not buy or use products or services from a third-party, uninvolved employer that is doing business with a specific employer. The secondary boycott pressures the third-party, uninvolved employer to no longer do business with a specific employer because the union has a labor dispute with the specific employer. Secondary boycotts are prohibited under law.

What is a ‘Captive Audience’ Meeting?

A ‘captive audience’ meeting is a meeting organized by an employer to gather employees to discuss the pros and cons of unionization. These meetings are usually held at the work site or office location.

What is a Card Check?

A card check is a method that counts the number of employees who signed a union authorization card and compares it to the total list of employees to determine if a bargaining unit could be formed. If there is a majority of employees who signed an authorization card, it may lead to the formation of a bargaining unit and eventually recognize a union as the employees’ representative. Unions often prefer a “card check” as an alternative to a traditional election.

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 Decertification?

Decertification is the formal process by which the National Labor Relations Board withdraws the official recognition of a union’s status to exclusively represent and bargain on behalf of workers. Decertification includes a decertification election, where workers can vote to retain union representation or decertify the union as their representative by a majority vote.

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 a Labor Union?

Merriam-Webster defines a labor union as “an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions.” Unions may represent private- or public-sector employees, collectively bargain on their behalf, file grievances for alleged breaches of the collective bargaining agreement, and collect dues from their members. They often make political donations using member dues and may carry a 501(c)(5) tax exemption status with the Internal Revenue Service.

Read AFFT’s stories about labor unions 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.

What is a private-sector union?

A private-sector union is a union that represents employees who work for private (non-government) companies and businesses. The process of unionization and collective bargaining in the private sector is largely regulated by the National Labor Relations Act, with oversight from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). State labor laws may also regulate private-sector unions when they represent employees of small businesses. Private-sector unions, like public-sector unions, collectively bargain on behalf of employees, can file grievances, and collect dues, which likewise are often spent on overhead, representing members, or political action. Private-sector unions bargain with the management of a private company.

Read AFFT’s stories about private-sector unions here.

What is a public-sector union?

A public-sector union is a union that represents local, state, or federal government employees. They are regulated under a combination of state and federal law. Public-sector unions negotiate on behalf of public employees for wages, benefits, and working conditions. These negotiations typically result in a collective bargaining or other written agreement. When the employer violates the collective bargaining agreement, public-sector unions may file a grievance on employees’ behalf. Public-sector unions also collect dues from members, which are often spent on operating expenses, representing members, or political action, including election spending. Unlike their private-sector counterparts, public-sector unions bargain with government employers, including elected officials or elected officials’ designees. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME in 2018, public-sector employees have the right to not have to pay dues or fees to the union.

Read AFFT’s stories about public-sector unions here.

What are Weingarten Rights?

Weingarten Rights are the right of an employee in a unionized workplace to have a union representative present during an interview with his or her employer that could lead to discipline, as established in NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc. An “interview” in this context means a formal discussion with a manager, supervisor, or representative concerning a grievance, personnel policy or practice, or other condition of employment, or an investigation into the employee’s work performance or conduct that could reasonably lead to discipline. If the employee reasonably believes that the examination may result in discipline and the employee requests representation, he or she has a right to have a union representative present. This right can only be asserted against the employer; the union is not obligated to send a representative.