Union Glossary

Union/trade union/labor union

A union is a group of people coming together to use their strength in numbers to improve where they work. Professional athletes, medical doctors, nurses, janitors, construction workers, famous actors, teachers, professors, and student workers all have unions in the US and in many other countries. Unions can be as small as three workers or as large as millions, but they all use workers’ strength in numbers to change what they want to change at work or in society.

The Basics


Third-party (occasionally a governmental agency) mediation between two parties with a difference of opinion, in this case typically union represented workers and their boss or bosses. Arbitration commonly occurs during collective bargaining or is a part of the enforcement of a union contract. For example, if a worker feels she has been disciplined in a discriminatory way that violates the collective bargaining agreement, and the manager disagrees, the union may seek arbitration to resolve the dispute. See also: collective bargaining (agreement)/union contract, mediation.

At-will/Just cause (employment)

Outside of protected categories such as race and religion, an employer may fire employees for any reason at all (including no reason!) under at-will employment. Just cause employment is the opposite: an employer must offer a good reason for firing employees. Just cause employment protections are common in union contracts, but most of American labor law is under at-will employment. See also: collective bargaining.

Bargaining Committee

A group of workers elected by their coworkers to collectively bargain a union contract for themselves. Usually done in tandem with paid union staffers, union-side lawyers, and community members, a bargaining committee should represent as many occupations, shifts, departments, races, nationalities, gender identities, sexualities, etc., of the workforce as possible. See also: collective bargaining.

Bargaining for the Common Good

Where unions expand the scope of their organizing work beyond wages, benefits, and working conditions to fight to improve their communities, often by centering racial justice and community empowerment. We strongly endorse bargaining for the common good. See also: social movement unionism.

Bargaining unit

The workers covered by a union contract/eligible to vote in a union representation election. These workers must share a “community of interest,” but US labor law allows for wide latitude for employees and employers in determining what that is. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, for example, is one national bargaining unit of 83,000 healthcare workers (including but not limited to optometrists, nurses, janitors, and therapists), represented by four international unions through eleven union locals in six states and the District of Columbia. Other bargaining units are much smaller, for example, the two separate bargaining units for several hundred housekeepers and part-time/adjunct faculty at WashU. See also: collective bargaining (agreement)/union contract.


A concerted refusal to buy goods or services from a provider to seek a change in behavior. One of the most common forms of collective direct action, boycotts are legally guaranteed by the US Constitution’s First Amendment’s freedom of association protections.


A sustained effort by an organization around one issue or several combined ones. Common kinds of campaign include: living wage campaign (for wage raises), contract campaign (for a first collective bargaining agreement or a later one), and an election campaign (for union certification and recognition).

Card check (certification)/majority petition sign-up or authorization

The process by which a union shows that a majority of the workforce in the bargaining unit is in favor of the union by signing physical union representation cards which are then presented to a third party (often a government agency) for verification. An employer is then obligated to collectively bargain with the unionized workers. Card check greatly facilitates union organizing, as bosses often begin unionbusting once they learn about an organizing drive. Commonly used in private sector union drives in the 1930s and 1940s and standard for public sector union organizing in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon, we strongly support the enactment of a card check union certification option for all occupations through the Workplace Democracy Plan.


The legal process by which a union indicates it represents a group of workers. Certification usually happens in the US through three ways: 1) voluntary recognition (an employer agrees to bargain with a union of workers without contestation); 2) card check (a third party verifies that a union has secured a majority of support from the bargaining unit in a workplace through a confirmation of signed union cards);  3) election (if 30% of a bargaining unit has signed union cards or petitions, the union may file for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) supervised election; the employer may request an election through the NLRB; or the union and the employer can agree to a third party election through, e.g., the American Arbitration Association). 

One year after a union certification, if 30% of a bargaining unit signs onto a decertification petition, they may file to de-unionize the workplace. Decertification votes are uncommon. Some states such as Iowa have passed mandatory public sector union recertification laws in recent years, to force unions to continue to reorganize already unionized workplaces rather than organize the unorganized. We strongly oppose mandatory recertification laws. See also: bargaining unit, card check, election, majority/minority union, recognition.

Collective bargaining/Collective bargaining agreement/Union contract

The main method by which recognized unions secure protections, better wages and benefits, etc. for workers from their employers. Legally enforceable through court systems, union contracts cover all workers in a bargaining unit, and are bargained for by the workforce’s elected bargaining committee and often union staffers. Employers must bargain with certified unions on wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment (e.g., working hours), but contracts can include nearly anything, such as civil rights protections (e.g., that no LGBT+ workers can be fired for their identities). Collective bargaining works through workers coming together in solidarity using their greater strength in numbers. See also: bargaining committee, bargaining unit, bargaining for the common good, enterprise bargaining/sectoral bargaining, certification, recognition.

Company union/yellow union

A private or public sector employer controlled union. Lacking in all independence, company unions are used to co-opt the power of workers to come together through legitimate unions. Company unions are illegal under the US National Labor Relations Act (1935) and the International Labour Organization’s Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Commission (1949).

Craft union/industrial union/general union

Craft unions are organized along skilled occupational lines, such as the Carpenters, often using job training centers as a part of their organizing. Industrial unions are organized along entire industrial lines, such as the United Auto Workers organizing all auto workers no matter their skill level. General unions seek to organize all workers in all occupations that they can. WUGWU is organizing all student workers, no matter what kind of work, pay, or department, so we are an industrial union with general union tendencies. 

Direct action/collective action/industrial action/job action

The process by which a group of people comes together to directly affect change, rather than through mediated lobbying. Direct action creates solidarity between the people planning and taking action and creates pressure on decision makers to take action on workers’ demands (e.g., for higher wages). Often called protests or demonstrations, there are many forms of direct action such as the banner drop or the sit-in. See also: Boycott, Escalation, Lockout, Militant/Militancy, Picket, Strike, Secondary strike/sympathy strike, Protected concerted activity, Wildcat strike, Work-to-rule.


The part of workers’ income that goes to funding union member organizing, representation, and servicing through paid union organizers, lawyers, and office space. Dues also pay for food and clothes for members. Union dues average 2% of wages or salary, which are offset by higher salaries won from the strength of workers collectively bargaining together. The average wage difference between a unionized workforce and non-unionized workforce in the same occupation is +19%, according to the most recent (2019) annual report by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Disaggregating the data, the higher education occupation (employee defined) and industry (employer defined) wage differences are: 

Professional sector education, training, and library occupations (weekly wages):

$972 non-unionized workplace 

$1173 union members

21% or $201 union wage difference 

2% of salary in union dues equals $23.46

$1149 union wages, after dues 

18% union wage difference over non-union, after dues

Private sector educational services (weekly wages):

$994 for nonunion workplace

$1129 for union members

14% or $135 union wage difference 

2% of salary in union dues equals $22.58

$1106 for union wages, after dues

11% union wage difference over non-union, after dues 

See also: union difference.

Duty of fair representation

The legal duty of unions to represent all of their workers, inclusive of disability, gender identity, race, sexuality, class, nationality, documentation, etc.

Election (Representation election/Certification election/Union election)

One legal process by which unions certify that a majority of a workforce wants union representation. The election may be held by the federal National Labor Relations Board (for most private sector employees), the National Mediation Board (for railway and airline employees), a state labor relations board (for public sector employees), or a third-party such as the American Arbitration Association. Employer and employee representatives act as poll workers during the duration of the election, which may be conducted in person or through mail in ballots. Typically secret ballot elections with the options of YES or NO for union representation, a 50% + 1 vote majority is needed for union representation. Multiple unions occasionally contest elections together or against one another. Once a union is legally certified, the employer is obligated to bargain in good faith with the union on a collective bargaining agreement, as enforced by the National Labor Relations Board. See also: Bargaining unit, Certification, National Labor Relations Act, National Labor Relations Board, Railway Labor Act.

Enterprise bargaining/pattern bargaining/sectoral bargaining/master agreement/national agreement

Enterprise bargaining is collective bargaining at a single workplace. Pattern bargaining is bargaining in one industry carried out by a national or international union leveraging employers to match union contracts by their competitors (e.g., the United Auto Workers at Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors bargain for essentially the same union contract at all three automakers). 

Sectoral bargaining is where, often through governmental policy, unions and employers bargain contracts (sometimes called master agreements) across entire industries. Common in European nations, in the US, unions such as 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, representing over 80,000 members, bargain one contract with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, representing 109 health centers, hospitals, and nursing homes in New York and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, representing some 20,000 longshore workers, bargains one contract with the Pacific Maritime Association, representing 70 ocean carriers and terminal operators, across 109 ports along the Pacific Coast in the US and Canada. Citywide school district union contracts for education sector workers, and various airline workers are other examples. We strongly believe in the necessity of sectoral bargaining in many, if not all, occupations. See also: metro strategy.


The principle that union members must decide and act together to increase the pressure through direct action on employers to win what they want to win. Going from phonebanking the boss’s office together, to collectively delivering a petition at the boss’s office, to voting to go on strike, to striking is a common escalation plan. Always giving the people in power a chance to do the right thing, escalating direct action works not because the last action the union did was so effective, but because the threat of what the union is going to do next is so effective. 

Federation/National trade union center

An organization composed of multiple national and international unions, coordinating together for the building of collective power and resolution of conflicts. Some national and international unions such the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) use federation to mean union rather than a federation of unions. Labor federations do not oversee collective bargaining agreements, and so do not necessarily have members, though unions still vote to democratically elect federation officers. Federations still allow a large amount of control at the levels of the international and union local. The two largest labor federations in the US are the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the Change to Win (CtW) federation. There are also state chapters of federations, and so WUGWU is affiliated with the Missouri AFL-CIO but not the national AFL-CIO.

Grievance (procedure)

A formal complaint by workers that their rights or union contracts have been violated by management. Often resulting in unfair labor practices, grievance procedure protections can be wide-ranging and are common to collective bargaining agreements. See also: Collective bargaining, Unfair Labor Practice.

International, the / the National (union)

A union that organizes either internationally or nationally, rather than only locally. WUGWU is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, which organizes in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada.

Labor peace/industrial peace

Harmony in the workplace between employers and employees, often brought about through democractic and fair collective bargaining practices. Labor peace is the goal of the National Labor Relations Act.

Labor relations/industrial relations

The legal system for how employers and employees interact as protected, controlled, or contested by workers, bosses, and the government. Workplace disputes, industrial actions, union protections, etc. are all a part of labor relations. See also: National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, Labor-Management Relations Act, and Norris-LaGuardia Act.

Local, the/Union Local

Where most union organizing and decision making happens, a local union (typically identified with a number) may operate for a single worksite (e.g., United Auto Workers [UAW] Local 2250 at the General Motors plant in Wentzville, MO), a city or metropolitan region (e.g., the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [IBEW] Local 1 for electricians in St. Louis); an industry (e.g., the International Union of Operating Engineers [IUOE] Local 513 for heavy equipment operators in the St. Louis region alongside IUOE Local 148 for utility workers and others in the St. Louis region); or across several states and several industries as an amalgamated union local (e.g., SEIU Local 1 for student workers, adjunct professors, janitors, public sector workers in 11 cities and 7 states). Union locals are typically where union contracts are bargained and enforced by paid staff, but they also often hold political and social events. See also: Amalgamated, International, the/the National.


When an employer refuses to let the employees into the worksite, essentially an inverse of the worker-run strike. Lockouts are very rare in contemporary times, and are usually banned in union contracts through “no strike/no lockout” clauses. See also: strike.

Majority/minority unionism

A union that has the majority of a bargaining unit’s support is a majority union while a union that only has a minority of support is a minority union. Essentially all majority unions start off as minority unions and typically pursue certification, recognition, and collective bargaining after achieving majority status. The National Labor Relations Act allows for minority union collective bargaining, though this is rarely used in the US. See also: collective bargaining.


Dispute resolution between two parties, in this case a union represented workers and their boss or bosses. Mediation commonly happens during collective bargaining sessions or in enforcing union contracts. A mediator will act as third-party facilitator between the two parties, working to come to a just resolution for the dispute. The typical difference between arbitration and mediation is that a mediator does not come to a decision but rather assists in decision making. See also: arbitration, collective bargaining (agreement).


A union that is willing to fight for its members, frequently using direct/industrial action and/or following the organizing model, is described as a militant union. Nearly all militant actions, though they may be confrontational or assertive, are nonviolent. Union militancy whether through slow downs, pickets, intermittent work stoppages, or even prolonged strikes are historically how unions have won drastic changes for their members and even changed laws or governments.

National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)/Wagner Act of 1935

Passed in response to the US strike wave of 1934, the NLRA protects the organizing rights of most private sector employees through the creation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Act is broad in its protections of workers’ rights to encourage labor peace and address the inequality of bargaining power between employers and employees. The Act protects the right to strike and engage in protected concerted activity, such as sharing wage rates. Union representation elections are held through the NLRB, as provided for by the Act. Please see this basic guide from the NLRB’s website for more information.

The NLRA excludes public sector workers, managerial workers, agricultural/farmworkers, railway and airline workers, domestic workers, workers at religious institutions, managerial workers, franchised workers, independent contractors, and tenured and tenure track faculty members from its jurisdiction, and we support SEIU’s Unions for All plan to challenge these restrictions. See also: collective bargaining, direct action/collective action/industrial action, labor peace/industrial peace, Protected concerted activity, Unfair Labor Practice.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

The five member federal agency that enforces the National Labor Relations Act and, at times, functions like the US Supreme Court in crafting and creating labor law. The members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, so the majority depends upon political party control of the White House. There are also district NLRB offices that typically hold union certification elections, investigate unfair labor practices, and enforce collective bargaining agreements. See also: collective bargaining, Election, Labor Management Relations Act/Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, Protected concerted activity, Unfair Labor Practice.


The process by which people come together to use their strength in numbers to effect change. This could be through a union, a civil rights organization, or something else.

Organizing Committee

A committee of workers dedicated to organizing a union of themselves, for themselves, by themselves and their co-workers.

Organizing model/servicing model

A union that follows the organizing model is committed to organizing the unorganized while the servicing model is a union that only services its currently unionized workplaces.


An industrial action in which workers position themselves outside a place of employment in order to inform the public of an industrial dispute. Typically pickets accompany strikes. Some forms of picketing are legally protected and some are not. See also: Direct action/collective action/industrial action and strike/walkout/work stoppage.

Protected concerted activity

When two or more workers, with or without a union, take action together inside or outside of their workplace to improve their wages, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment, in the private sector, they are generally legally protected from retaliation by the National Labor Relations Act. The wording of the law is intentionally broad and inclusive. See also: direct action, unfair labor practice, National Labor Relations Act, National Labor Relations Board, TIPS and FOE.

Rank-and-file (unionism)

The rank-and-file is the general membership of the union. They should run their union.


The vote of a union’s membership either for or against a tentative agreement, as negotiated by the bargaining committee. If the membership within the bargaining unit ratifies the contract, then it goes into legal force. If they vote it down, then the bargaining committee and the employer(s) must bargain again. See also: bargaining committee, bargaining unit, collective bargaining agreement, tentative agreement.


The process by which employees, through unions, achieve collective bargaining from their employers. Unions may achieve voluntary recognition from an employer or may need to have a union representation election. Many (but far from all) unions become legally certified before being recognized.  See also: Certification, Election (Representation election/Certification election/Union election)

“Right-to-work” law

A misleading and often misunderstood term, it simply means a law that makes workers in unionized workplaces opt into paying union dues, as a way to weaken the solidarity between union members. Other anti-union laws often operate in tandem with “right-to-work” laws. An invention of pro-racial segregationist Vance Muse, they have successfully weakened but not defeated unions all across the US.


When a boss, manager, or supervisor gives workers worse wages or working conditions because of union activity. Threats, Interrogation, Promises, and Surveillance/Spying (TIPS) by bosses, managers, supervisors, etc., as methods of deterring unions, are illegal under the federal National Labor Relations Act. There is no history of any retaliation for student worker union organizing at WashU outside of some misleading statements. We at WUGWU and SEIU do not retaliate against non-union members for not being in favor of our union. See also: National Labor Relations Act, Protected concerted activity, TIPS and FOE.


Traditionally a strikebreaker, or replacement worker for striking workers, today scab refers to an anti-union worker. The metaphor is that scabs are a fast but impermanent replacement for the body of the workplace. Don’t be a scab!

Shop/shop floor/union security agreement

The workplace. No matter if a union is organizing at a factory, airport, hospital, or university, in union terms it is “the shop.” The shop is also used in union-security agreement portions of collective bargaining agreements, where workers through their unions and employers bargain the establishment of union dues and membership covered by the contract. The “closed shop” where all workers must become union members as a condition of employment, is illegal in the US. The “open shop” where workers must opt into paying union dues in a unionized workplace is the law in a slight majority of American states, including all local, state, and federal public sector employment (also known as “right-to-work”) after the US Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision. Private sector employment in Missouri, however, has the “union shop” or “agency shop,” where all workers in a unionized workplace must pay union dues (usually 2% of wages or salary) or agency fees (usually less than union dues) for union representation. Anti-union lawmakers have been weakening workers’ freedom to bargain collectively for the last 70 years through open shop drives. See also: Agency fees, Collective bargaining agreement, Dues, Free rider problem, Janus v. AFSCME, “Right-to-work.”

Shop steward/department steward/union steward

Union members who step up to speak on behalf of their colleagues are stewards, often acting as liaisons between the union local and the workforce. A well-functioning union will have stewards for all of the workforce’s departments who work to empower their colleagues. See also: Shop/shop floor, Local, the/Union Local.

Social movement unionism/solidarity unionism

A union that organizes around social issues such as civil rights, gender equality, racial equity, climate change, international or immigrant justice, etc. above and beyond wages, benefits, and working conditions. Essentially, a social movement union that practices the saying, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” See also: bargaining for the common good.

Strike/walkout/work stoppage

The most famous form of industrial action and commonly associated with unions, strikes are the intentional withholding of work by a group of workers. Strikes can take place for an hour, a day, or months, depending on the decisions of the striking membership (often led by a strike committee). Strikes generally only occur after other forms of worker-boss actions and mediations have stalled or failed, and only after large majorities of a workforce have voted to authorize a strike. Many strikes are legally protected by the National Labor Relations Act in the private sector or through state labor laws in the public sector. No one can be forced to go on strike. For strikes that are not legally protected, there is an old labor saying that “there is no such thing as an illegal strike, only an unsuccessful one.” See also: Direct action/collective action/industrial action, Escalation, National Labor Relations Act, Picket, Protected concerted activity, Sit-down strike/occupation.

Unfair Labor Practice (ULP)

An action by an employer or a union that violates labor law, including union contract violations, interfering with workers organizing a union or taking action to improve their working conditions, or employer spying on worker organizing, employer refusal to bargain in good faith, among many other things. Charges can be filed by an employer, union, or worker with the regional National Labor Relations Board or state labor relations board, to begin an investigation into the alleged ULP. See also: National Labor Relations Act, National Labor Relations Board, Unionbusting.

Unionbusting/Unionbusters/Union avoidance/Boss fight

When bosses, employers, and expensive lawyers collaborate to thwart workers from organizing their union. Many tactics that bosses pay union avoidance lawyers to use are illegal under the NLRA and are unfair labor practices. Boss fights and unionbusting can be defeated by workers strongly coming together and engaging in strong direct actions. See also: Unfair Labor Practice, TIPS and FOE.

Union density

The percentage of a workforce that is unionized, whether nationally or locally. Union density usually correlates with societies more economically equal, democratic, and happy, such as the Nordic nations (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden), where union density is anywhere from 50 to 90%. The 2019 union density of the US was 10.3% (14.6 million workers), down from a peak of 35.8% (17 million salaried workers) in 1954. The 2019 union density of Missouri was 11.1% (297,000 workers). Disaggregating the 2019 data further, Missouri private sector union density was 8.2% (almost 185,000 workers) and public sector density was 28.1% (over 111,000 workers). The St. Louis, Missouri-Illinois metropolitan area’s union density was 14.8% (over 192,000 workers), including private sector union density at 10.7% (over 120,000 workers) and public sector union density at 40.8% (over 72,000 workers). Nationally, in 2019, in the occupation (employee-defined) of post-secondary teachers (teachers, professors, lecturers, etc. at colleges and universities), the union density was 18.4% (over 253,000 workers), and, in the industry (employer-defined) of colleges and universities, the union density was 13.3% (over 509,000 workers). 

Union difference

The difference between a unionized workforce and a non-unionized workforce. Unions usually provide higher wages and better benefits, smaller pay gaps between executives and workers, higher job satisfaction, and more egalitarian societies. As union density increases in industries, wage premiums often increase in non-unionized workplaces in the same industries. See also this article on the US union difference across the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Union officers

The democratically elected leadership of a union, whether local or international. They must fairly represent the needs of the union’s membership, file union disclosure reports to the US government, and run for re-election, under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. See also: Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.

The Advanced


A union or bargaining unit that is a part of a larger union but maintains independence. The California Faculty Association is an example of an SEIU affiliate. If membership of a union so wishes, they may disaffiliate from their affiliated union. WUGWU is affiliated with SEIU Local 1, and through Local 1, is affiliated with the Greater St. Louis Central Labor Council, the SEIU Missouri-Kansas State Council, SEIU, the Missouri AFL-CIO, the Change to Win federation, and the Public Services International. 


A union local that represents multiple occupations, e.g., SEIU Local 1 represents 60,000+ student workers, adjunct professors, janitors, window washers, and food service workers, etc., in eleven cities in seven Midwestern states, while our ~4,200 colleagues at UAW Local 2250 in Wentzville, MO work only at the General Motors factory there. 


A Cost of Living Adjustment clause of a union contract, where an employer agrees to match wages when the region’s living costs increase. See also: Collective bargaining.

Central Labor Council

A citywide or regional body of various unions coming together to use their (greater) combined strength in numbers. Our union is a part of the Greater St. Louis Central Labor Council, whose predecessor, the St. Louis Trades and Labor Assembly, was established in 1887.


The process by which a local, national, or international union or union federation creates an affiliation. SEIU was chartered as the Building Service Employees International Union by the American Federation of Labor in 1921.

Codetermination/works council

A European model of labor relations where workers sit on and have voting power on corporate boards alongside management and large shareholders.

Dues check-off

The automatic payment of workers’ dues from the employer to the union, often a part of collective bargaining agreements. See also: collective bargaining, dues.

Employee misclassification

The process by which an employer categorizes its workers as temporary/temp, on-call, and contract workers (not union contract workers), freelancers, and independent contractors to avoid labor law protections such as the minimum wage, overtime, and protected concerted activity (including union representation). Employee misclassification is common in the janitorial, trucking and shipping, and construction industries and the “gig economy” at employers such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Postmates, and Task Rabbit who claim that they do not control their service workers. Employee misclassification affects 15.8% of the US workforce or 23 million workers, according to one 2015 study. The California legislature recently passed Assembly Bill 5, placing in law the “ABC test” which states that to be an independent contractor, a worker: (A) must be free from the company’s control, (B) must be  doing work that isn’t central to the company’s business, and (C) must have an independent business in that industry. If they don’t meet all three of those conditions, then they have to be classified as employees. We strongly back legal protections against employee misclassification. See also: National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act.

Exclusive representation

American labor law that every bargaining unit must only have one certified bargaining agent (often one union). Coming from American representative democracy, unions are usually established through a showing of majority, and not unanimous, support. Unions are legally required to represent all workers within a bargaining unit, not only members and supporters. See also: Duty of fair representation.

Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938

The first federal law established to enact a national minimum wage, ban child labor, create the 40-hour work week, and establish overtime pay for work done over 40 hours (federal website here) that was passed after extensive union organizing. Aside from needing to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and pegging it to the Consumer Price Index, the Act has many restrictions and carve outs of workers that need updating for the 21st century. See also: Forced arbitration/mandatory arbitration, Non-disclosure agreements, and Non-compete clauses.

Forced arbitration/mandatory arbitration 

The requirement that employees must use employer-determined arbitration systems as a condition of employment rather than the judicial system on topics such as wage theft, sexual harassement and assault, and discrimination, affecting some 60 million employees. Employers may also mandate individual rather than collective arbitration, furthering the inequality of bargaining power between employers and employees. This differs from normal arbitration because it is not negotiated between the employers and union-represented employees. We strongly support the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, which would ban such coercive clauses in labor relations.

Free rider problem

When a unionized shop or workplace has workers who, rather than standing in solidarity with their coworkers, do not pay union dues or become union members, yet they receive union benefits through their unionized co-workers’ dues, creating the free rider problem. See also: “right-to-work,” Janus v. AFSCME.

Flying squad

A group of union members dedicated to engaging in solidarity actions for their community, over and above their union commitments.

Hot cargo

Goods from a workplace engaged in an industrial dispute between workers and bosses; unions in logistics occupations such as shipping and transit often refuse to handle hot cargo out of solidarity to fellow workers.

Hot shop

A workplace ready to organize or mobilize with or without a union because of severe workplace issues.

Janus v. AFSCME

A 2018 US Supreme Court case that ruled all public sector employment “right-to-work,” mandating that all workers must opt into paying union dues for union representation. Overruling decades of legal precedent, Janus v. AFSCME creates divisions among workers through a severe free-rider problem and causes public sector unions to spend their time re-organizing already unionized workers. See also: “Right-to-work” law.

Joint-employer standards/franchising

A way of weakening workers’ ability to organize, large corporations like McDonald’s declare that they are not responsible for the workers at non-corporate owned and operated, franchised stores. By creating a joint-employer standard in labor law saying that both McDonald’s and local franchise owners are responsible for their workers, their ability to unionize would be greatly facilitated. We strongly back joint-employer standards.


Industry in which a union organizes in. Some unions such as the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and National Nurses United (NNU) only organize one occupation while others such as SEIU, organize and represent workers in over 100 occupations. Occasionally, unions have jurisdictional disputes which are bad for both unionized and nonunionized workers.

Metro strategy

A union organizing an industry or industries within one or several metro regions. SEIU Local 1 organizes all higher education workers and janitors in St. Louis. See also: Enterprise bargaining/pattern bargaining/sectoral bargaining/master agreement/national agreement.

Sympathy strike/secondary strike

A collective withdrawal of labor by workers in sympathy to another industrial dispute that is not their own. Some sympathy strikes are illegal under the Labor Management Relations Act. See also: strike, Labor Management Relations Act.

Labor Management Relations Act/Taft-Hartley Act of 1947

An anti-union law amending the National Labor Relations Act, passed after the 1946 national strike wave of some 2 million workers, the Taft-Hartley Act 1) allowed for states to pass private sector “right-to-work” laws (allowing for workers to not pay union dues while still benefiting from union representation); 2) banned supervisors from being in bargaining units with workeFrs that they supervise; 3) created unfair labor practices for unions (banning sympathy strikes, secondary boycotts); 4) banned the closed shop (mandating union membership for employment at a unionized workplace); 5) banned independent electoral campaign expenditures; 6) banned wildcat strikes, jurisdictional strikes, and federal employee strikes; 7) banned members or supporters of the Communist Party from union leadership from using the National Labor Relations Board (since found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court); and 8) allows for some employer opposition to union organizing. We back a full repeal of the restrictions of the Act and an expansion of union organizing rights. See also: shop/shop floor, Sympathy strike/secondary strike, strike; TIPS and FOE.

Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act or Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959

An act that mandates regular hidden ballot elections for union officers, federal financial disclosures, and limits on union trusteeships. See also: Union officer, trustee/trusteeship.

Non-compete agreements/clauses

A part of a contract where an employer mandates that an employee must not, as a condition of employment, work in a similar industry out of fear of competition, affecting some 30 million US workers, according to one estimate. While there can be some argument about the importance of property protection, non-compete clauses have been used to prevent fast food workers at Jimmy John’s from working at other restaurants, and so we back a federal restriction on non-compete clauses.

Non-disclosure agreement (NDAs)

A contract between two parties that declares that neither party will speak about the terms and conditions of the agreement. NDAs are often used by powerful corporations to prevent workers from speaking about employers’ wrongdoings such as discrimination, wage theft, or sexual assault or harassement, furthering the inequality of bargaining power between employers and employees. We support federal restrictions on NDAs. See also: Forced arbitration, mandatory arbitration, Non-compete clauses, yellow-dog contracts.

Norris-LaGuardia Act/Anti-Injunction Bill of 1932

The first federal law protecting worker organizing outside of the railway industries, this Act bans the court enforcement of yellow-dog contracts (preventing employees from organizing unions under penalty of firing), bans court ordered injunctions against nonviolent union actions (preventing union actions from occurring under penalty of legal fines or jailing), and protects the rights of employees to organize unions without employer interference. See also: yellow-dog contracts.

Persuader rule

An enacted and revoked piece of labor law that mandates that employers must disclose how much they pay union avoidance firms for their unionbusting. We strongly support the reinstatement of the persuader rule. See also: Unionbusting/Unionbusters/Union avoidance.

Railway Labor Act of 1926

The first federal law to protect union organizing and representation, only covering workers in the railway industry. The Act’s jurisdiction was extended to airline workers in 1936. The three person federal National Mediation Board carries out the Act, and provides for union elections, grievances, and mediation for airline and railway workers, unions, and employers.


A worker who takes a job in order to organize and unionze the workforce. Salting is legal in the US.

Sit-down strike/occupation

A form of strike in which workers cease working, sit-down where they work, preventing scab labor from replacing them. The sit-down strike is a relative to the sit-in form of protest or civil disobedience. Most forms of sit-down strike or occupation are not legally protected, but when well organized are incredibly powerful and successful in winning victories for workers. See also: strike/walkout/work stoppage.


The process by which a national or international union takes over a local union or affiliate. There are legal restrictions on trusteeships, and they are uncommon and reversible. Nevertheless, we object on grounds of union democracy to most trusteeships.


Threats, Interrogation, Promises, and Surveillance by bosses, managers, supervisors, etc., as methods of deterring unions, are illegal under the federal National Labor Relations Act. Facts, Opinions, and Examples by the same group are legal, but are often intentionally misleading, and paid for by bosses from unionbusting law firms like Proskauer-Rose.


A union term for either a bargaining unit that includes a broad group of workers (e.g., an entire hospital) or a department/workplace/bargaining unit with high union membership/participation.

Weingarten rights

The rights of a worker to have union representation present during investigatory meetings with supervisors, as established by the US Supreme Court case, National Labor Relations Board v. J. Weingarten, Inc. Employers may not discipline employees for requesting union representation, and if they refuse the request and continue with the meeting, have engaged in an unfair labor practice. See also: Unfair Labor Practice.

Wildcat strike

A strike conducted without using government sanctioned strike protocol. Wildcat strikes are high risk and high reward industrial actions. See also: strike, direct action/industrial action.


An industrial action in which workers slowdown production by following all workplace rules to their furthest extent.

Worker misclassification

The process by which employers miscategorize workers such that they are not “employees” entitled to the protections of labor law. Occupational titles like “independent contractor” and “gig worker” have been frequently used in the twenty-first to erode hard won labor protections.

Yellow dog contract/ironclad oath/infamous document

A contract which stipulates that workers pledge not to unionize, and that they individually must sign as a condition of employment. Made illegal by the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, the yellow dog name is a pejorative for workers who signed such a contract being yellow or cowardly. Historian Walter Johnson recently wrote about Harvard University’s unfulfilled threat of reviving the yellow-dog contract against the Harvard Graduate Students Union. The modern cousin of the yellow dog contract or ironclad oath is the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and non-compete clauses.  

US Unions and the Organized Labor Movement

White-collar, public sector, and professional unions


American Association of University Professors

Union and professional association for US professors.


American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada

Union for musicians in the US and Canada.


American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees

Union mostly composed of nonfederal public sector employees in many occupations.


American Federation of Government Employees

Union mostly composed of federal public sector employees in many occupations.


American Federation of Teachers

Union mostly of primary and secondary education workers (teachers and support staff), it also has a large higher education and healthcare division.


American Postal Workers Union

Union mostly for US Postal Service support workers.


Actors’ Equity Association

Union for theatrical actors and stage managers.


International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada

Union for stagehands and entertainment industry crew workers.


International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers

Union mostly of engineers at companies such as Boeing, it also includes US judges and municipal employees and the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union (NPEU – IFPTE Local 70).

NALC/Letter Carriers

National Association of Letter Carriers

Union mostly of nonrural US Postal Service workers.


National Education Association

Union mostly of primary and secondary education workers (primarily teachers) and some higher education workers.


Office and Professional Employees International Union

Union of white-collar workers.


Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

Union of actors in the film, television, and radio industries.


Service Employees International Union

A diverse union of over 100 professions in the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada typically organizing in healthcare, property services, and public sector occupations.

UE/United Electrical Workers

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America

Historically a strong manufacturing union, the UE also includes many public sector workers including in higher education.


Writers’ Guild of America (West / East)

Union of many kinds of writers from journalists to screenwriters.

Pink-collar and service unions


Communications Workers of America

Traditionally a union of telecommunications workers, the CWA includes many public sector occupations, higher education occupations, manufacturing occupations, flight attendants, and journalists.


National Nurses United

The largest union of US nurses.


Service Employees International Union

A diverse union of over 100 professions in the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada typically organizing in healthcare, property services, and public sector occupations.


United Food and Commercial Workers

A union of mostly food and retail occupational workers.


Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union

A union that was created as a merger between textile industry workers and hotel and restaurant workers, UNITE HERE! includes many casino workers and clerical workers.

Blue-collar, transportation, manufacturing, building trades, etc. unions


Amalgamated Transit Union

Union mostly of bus and railway workers.


Farm Labor Organizing Committee

Union of farmworkers, mostly in Ohio and North Carolina.


International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

Union of manufacturing workers, often in railway and aerospace industries.


International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Union mostly of electricians.


International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Union mostly in the trucking industry but includes many other occupations such as brewing and warehousing.


International Longshore and Warehouse Union

Union of mostly longshore port and warehouse workers on the Pacific Coast, it also includes brewery, bookstore, and pineapple plantation workers. 


International Union of Painters and Allied Trades

Union mostly of skilled painters in the construction industry.


Laborers’ International Union of North America

Union mostly of skilled laborers in the construction industry.


Transport Workers Union of America

Union mostly of railway and airline workers.

SMART/Sheet Metal Workers

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers

Union of skilled sheet metal workers but also including airline and railway workers.

UAW/United Auto Workers

The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America

Union mostly of autoworkers, but also including many aerospace and agricultural implement factory workers and higher education workers (clerical, postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate, adjunct faculty).


United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America

Union mostly of skilled carpenters in the construction industry.

UE/United Electrical Workers

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America

Historically a strong manufacturing union, the UE also includes many public sector workers including in higher education.


United Farm Workers of America

Union of farm workers, mostly on the West Coast.

UMWA/United Mine Workers 

United Mine Workers of America

Union of miners, the founding union behind the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

USW/United Steelworkers

United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union

A large industrial union of many different occupations though historically in the production of steel.

IUOE/Operating Engineers

International Union of Operating Engineers

Union mostly of operators of heavy equipment in the construction industry.

One Big Union


Industrial Workers of the World

Anarcho-syndicalist global union dedicated to organizing everyone other than bosses and security services.

Labor Organizations other than Unions


A. Philip Randolph Institute

An organization part of the AFL-CIO dedicated to furthering black labor and civil rights, named after the celebrated organizer of the first national Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and co-organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations

The largest American labor federation of national and international unions, includes most other large American unions other than NEA, IBT, SEIU, and UFW. 


Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

AFL-CIO affiliated organization founded by black union leaders to focus on improving Black labor and civil rights.

Change to Win

The second largest American union federation, it includes IBT, SEIU, UFW, and CWA (which is also affiliated with the AFL-CIO).


Coalition of Labor Union Women

AFL-CIO affiliated organization founded by women union leaders to focus on improving women’s labor and civil rights.

Jobs with Justice

A grassroots-focused organization that coordinates across the union movement, faith leaders, civil rights organizations, and immigrant rights movements.

Pride at Work

AFL-CIO affiliated organization founded by gay and lesbian union leaders to focus on improving LGBT+ labor and civil rights.


Labor-Oriented Publications

In These Times

Labor Notes

On Labor


The American Prospect


The File

University Centers for Labor Studies

City University of New York, Hunter College, National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions

Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Georgetown University, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor

Harvard University, Labor and Worklife Program

Indiana University, Department of Labor Studies

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Management and Labor Relations

University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor Research and Education

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, School of Labor and Employment Relations

University of Massachusetts Amherst, Labor Center