Glossary of Labor Terms

Glossary of Labor Terms


Agency Shop: A work place in which not all employees are required to join the union as a condition of employment, but those who don’t must pay the union a service fee. Most common in the public sector.

American Federation of Labor- Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO): The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is the voluntary federation of America's unions, representing more than 13 million working women and men nationwide. The AFL-CIO was formed in 1955 by the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Recently, SEIU and other unions have called for significant changes in how the AFL-CIO is structured and functions.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This federal law, passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment and in public services, public and private transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications services.

Anti-harassment policy: A policy set by the union, or jointly with management, to deal with harassment of members by each other, or by management. Harassment is unwelcome behavior that can include name-calling, jokes, graffiti, insults, threats, discourteous treatment, or written, verbal or physical abuse. Harassment is usually an abuse of power that violates human rights, based on prohibited grounds such as racial background, ethnicity, place of origin, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, and language.

Arbitration: A dispute resolution process whereby a neutral third party--the arbitrator--hears a grievance and makes a decision which is usually both final and binding on both parties. This process is used when the grievance procedure fails to produce a resolution of a grievance and the union determines that the case if worthy of going to arbitration.


Bargaining Unit: A group of workers with common interests certified by a Labor Board (NLRB, PERB) as a unit that bargains together in the same union. Workers who are not covered by the bargaining unit, like supervisors, are sometimes referred to as those, “out of the unit”. Workers who are covered by the bargaining unit are sometimes called, “bargaining unit members” or “unit members”.

Base Rate: The straight time rate of pay, excluding premiums and incentive bonuses. Boycott: A concerted refusal to purchase from, use, participate in, or support something in order to pressure an employer or other target to agree to the group’s demands.

Bread and Roses: The not-for-profit cultural arm of 1199 SEIU. Activities include free lunchtime drama, music and poetry programs with professional companies, Labor Day street fairs, videotapes and films, concerts at Lincoln Center as well as art and photography exhibitions at Gallery 1199.


Canvass: A method of talking individually to every member of a bargaining unit to either convey information, gather information on a survey, or plan for united action.

Caucus: 1. A meeting of either side (union or management) without the other present. Either side may call for a caucus at any time during a grievance meeting, labor management meeting or negotiations. Caucuses are usually taken to consider a proposal, change the tone of the meeting, to analyze what is happening, etc.

2. A group of people with a common identity and other commonalities form a caucus within a larger group to advocate for the rights and interests of marginalized voices within the larger group. A caucus is self-defined by members. No one should feel they need to prove their identity; however, it is important that everyone respects the need for marginalized groups of people to have their own space for discussion and planning.

Those caucuses include: Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, Native American Caucus, Lavender Caucus, Latino Caucus, National African American Caucus (AFRAM), People with Disabilities Caucus, Retiree Caucus, Women's Caucus. The caucuses have tackled crucial issues of civil and human rights and fostered solidarity with unions in other countries. They have also shone a light on injustices in North America that SEIU as a whole has striven to overcome. In doing so, they have expanded and deepened the unique SEIU culture of unity in diversity.

Charge: A written statement of alleged unfair practices. Filing a charge with the NLRB or PERB is the first step in an unfair labor practice proceeding. If the Board decides to take up the charge, it will issue a formal complaint to start an unfair labor practice hearing. Chapter: All the 1199 SEIU members who work in the same institution are a chapter of the union.

Check-Off: A contract clause authorizing the employer to deduct union dues and PAC contributions from paychecks of those members who so authorize deductions. The company then transfers the money to the union.

Child Care Fund (CCH): The 1199SEIU / Employer Child Care Fund establishes child care, youth programs, and related services for Fund-eligible 1199 bargaining unit members in order to increase their access to high quality, affordable child care and youth-related services and information. To assist parents in reconciling their work and family responsibilities, the CCH provides programs and services that meet the particular needs of children from infancy through age 17.

Class Action Grievance: A grievance signed by many people in a workplace in order to show management that members are collectively opposed to a management's action.

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

Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Contract, Agreement: The legally binding document worked out in collective bargaining between the union and the employer(s) covering wages, benefits, hours and working condition as well as a procedure to resolve grievances or other disputes that may arise.

Concerted Activity: The rights, protected by the National Labor Relations Act, of two or more employees to act in concert to form, join, or assist labor organizations in order to affect their wages, hours or work or working conditions.

Continuing Violation: A violation of a law or contract which is continuing in nature, and which therefore is not barred by any time limitation, even though the violation began before the time limitation period began.

Contract Language The specific wording found in the contract. Differences in what specific words mean and how language in different part of the contract may appear to conflict frequently lead to arbitrations.

Contracting Out: Contracting out is when management hires an outside company to provide services currently or formerly provided by bargaining unit members.

Contribution Rate: The percentage of the payroll that an employer pays into the benefit funds.

Corporate Campaign: The use of strategic pressure on an employer's weaknesses to gain leverage during a contract campaign or organizing drive. These campaigns involve analyzing an employer's social, financial, and political networks and mobilizing union members and community members in a comprehensive approach which does not rely on the strike alone as the basis of the union's leverage.

Craft Union: A union whose membership is restricted to workers possessing a particular skill. Most craft unions today, however, have broadened their jurisdictions to include many occupations and skills not closely related to the originally designated craft.


Discrimination: Treating one worker differently from another because of race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, ability or union membership.

Duty of Fair Representation (DFR): A union's obligation to represent all people in the bargaining unit as fairly and equally as possible. A union is said to have violated its Duty of Fair Representation when a union's conduct toward a member of a collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. A Delegate, for example, may not refuse to investigate a grievance or refuse to process a grievance which has merit. Delegates cannot “just go through the motions” in handling a grievance or give less effort to handling a grievance because you don’t like the person with the grievance or if that person didn’t vote for you or support you or any other reason except the merits of the case. It should be noted, however, that there is no absolute right to have a grievance taken to arbitration. The union may decide which grievances to arbitrate as long as there is no discrimination.


Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA): This law requires that persons engaged in the administration and management of private pensions act with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence that a prudent person familiar with such matters would use. The law also sets up an insurance program under the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) which guarantees some pension benefits even if a plan becomes bankrupt.

Employment, Training and Job Security Program (ETJSP): ETJSP is a joint effort of 1199 SEIU and contributing employers. ETJSP provides worker friendly, high quality training programs and supportive career counseling to help 1199 SEIU members advance their careers. ETJSP has programs to prevent and/or minimize layoffs, foster a balanced and equal relationship between labor and management in order to improve workers’ job satisfaction, improve industry efficiency, and improve patient care. ETJSP provides financial support, training, and placement rights to laid-off workers and recruitment and job placement services.

Equal Opportunities Employment Commission (EEOC): The federal government agency that administers most discrimination lawsuits.

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

Exempt Employee: An employee who is not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act and is therefore not eligible for time-and-one-half monetary payments for overtime. Exempt employees are generally paid a salary rather than an hourly rate.


Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA): The 1938 federal wage-hour law which established minimum wage, maximum weekly hours and overtime pay requirements in industries engaged in interstate commerce. The law also prohibited the labor of children under 16 years of age.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Federal law establishing a basic floor of 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave in any 12-month period to deal with birth or adoption of a child, to care for an immediate family member with a "serious health condition," or to receive care when the employee is unable to work because of his or her own "serious health condition." Fringe Benefits: Vacations, holidays, insurance, medical benefits, pensions, and other economic benefits that are given to employees under the union contract in addition to direct wages.

Fund: The term used to refer to a wide number of programs from health care to mortgage assistance provided jointly by the union and the employers. The union negotiates the contribution rates employers pay to the Fund. Funds are governed by an equal number of Fund Trustees from the union and from the employers who make decisions about the benefits provided.


Grandfather Clause: A contract provision specifying that employees on the payroll before a specified time will retain certain rights and benefits even though newer employees are not entitled to these rights.

Greater New York Healthcare Facilities Association: The bargaining coalition of nursing homes mostly in downstate New York that bargains with 1199 SEIU for thousands of members working in nursing homes. Sometimes referred to as “Greater”.

Grievance: Any type of worker dissatisfaction including violations of the collective bargaining agreement, violations of law, violations of employer policies, violations of fair treatment, and violations of past practices. Grievances are usually defined and categorized in each contract, and therefore may vary from one contract to another.

Grievance Procedure: A procedure usually established by a collective bargaining agreement to resolve disputes, problems or misunderstandings associated with the interpretation or application of the collective bargaining agreement. It consists of several steps with the last step of the procedure, usually being arbitration.

Grievant: A worker who files a grievance.


Harassment: See definition for Anti-harassment policy.


Independent: An employer (hospital, nursing home, agency, etc.) that does not belong to a coalition of employers who bargain together like the League and the Greater. Independents bargain directly with the union one at a time.

Industrial Union: A union whose membership includes all workers in a particular industry, regardless of the particular skills the worker exercises.

Informational Picketing: A type of picketing done with the express intent not to cause a work stoppage, but to publicize either the existence of a labor dispute or information concerning the dispute. The law requires the union to give a ten day notice before doing information picketing in front of health care facilities.


Job Action: A concerted, coordinated activity by employees designed to put pressure on the employer without resorting to a strike. Examples include: wearing T-shirts, buttons, or hats with union slogans, holding parking lot meetings, collective refusal of voluntary overtime, reporting to work in a group, petition signing, jamming phone lines, etc.

Just Cause: A reason an employer must give for any disciplinary action it takes against a worker.


Labor-Management Meetings: Many 1199 SEIU contracts provide for regular meetings of Delegates with representatives of management to resolve problems, exchange information and hopefully to prevent problems.

Labor-Management Project: Established in 1997, the Labor-Management Project (LMP) was created to help labor and management to work together in solving today’s healthcare challenges through consultation, facilitation, intervention, training, and mediation. Serving the members of 1199, the League, and other participating employers, the LMP seeks to foster joint work in solving problems and creating more meaningful and productive work environments.

League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes of New York: The bargaining coalition of hospitals and nursing homes mostly in New York City that bargains with 1199 SEIU. Sometimes referred to as “The League” this coalition of 67 institutions employs over 50,000 1199 SEIU members and sets a pattern for another 20,000 members.


Made Whole: A catchall phrase used in grievances and other legal action where a remedy is sought from an employer. Often used in discharge and discipline cases where the union seeks to have a worker, who had been wrongly discharged or disciplined, returned to work and reimbursed all wages, benefits, or other conditions lost due to an employer's unjustified action.

Management Rights or Prerogatives: The claimed rights of employers to control operational aspects of the workplace.

Member Assistance Program (MAP): MAP is one of the programs of the National Benefit Fund designed to counsel members with problems such as alcoholism and substance abuse as well as family problems. The MAP's telephone number is 646.473.6900.

Memorandum of Agreement: also Memorandum of Understanding: A legal signed document between the union and management which specifies agreements made in negotiations. Sometimes the MOA/MOU becomes an addendum to the main contract and other times it is eventually incorporated into the main contract.

“Me-Too” contract: Employers who are not in one of the bargaining associations like the League or the Greater, but who agree in advance to sign a contract with the same terms as those reached between the union and one of the employer bargaining associations.

Mobilize: To bring worker together to help the union achieve a goal as in mobilizing members in an institution to protest an unfair action by management or during contract negotiation to show that they are in support the union’s demands or for rallies in state capitols or Washington DC to demonstrate for adequate funding for human services.


National Benefit Fund: The 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund is a self-administered, self-insured, non-profit, Trust Fund with an equal number of union and management trustees. The Fund is not an insurance company. It provides comprehensive benefits to members of 1199 SEIU, along with their families. Contributions from employers, not union dues, pay the costs of providing benefits.

National Labor Relations Act, NLRA, The Wagner Act, The Act: The NLRA was enacted in 1935 to guarantee workers in the private sector the right to engage in concerted activities for the purpose collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), The Board: The enforcement arm for the National Labor Relations Act. 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. There are field offices of the NLRB throughout the U.S. Decisions made by staff in the field offices may be appealed to the five member Board in Washington DC who are . appointed by the President of the U.S. In recent years Republicans have appointed board members who have weakened the protections for workers and unions.

Nursing Home Associations: Groups of nursing homes who bargain together with 1199SEIU. These include: Association of Voluntary Nursing Homes, Greater New York Healthcare Facilities Association, United Healthcare Facilities Association, Intercounty Health Facilities Association, Inc., KM Labor Group, Long Island Health Facilities Association, Inc. (known also as the Mini-League), Medco Enterprises.


Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA): The federal law which authorizes the OSHA federal agency to set workplace health and safety standards, obligates employers to provide a safe workplace, and provides for enforcement of the standards. The law encourages states to develop their own safety laws which can replace the federal law.


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 which are traditionally held by men.

Pension Fund: The 1199SEIU Health Care Employees Pension Fund, with assets of over $7 billion, provides benefits to more than 30,000 retirees and their beneficiaries. The Pension Fund provides pension benefits that will assist participants in attaining a measure of financial security during their retirement years, as well as enhance the quality of life for members and their beneficiaries.

Phone Banking: The organized telephoning of large numbers of members to inform them of a union policy or action, to gather information of go turn out the vote for elections, etc. Phone Tree: A network of volunteer members in which one member calls a list of members, each of whom calls another list of members, etc.

Premium Pay: An extra amount over the normal hourly time rates, sometimes a flat sum, sometimes a percentage of the wage rates, paid to workers to compensate them for inconvenient hours, overtime, hazardous, or unpleasant conditions, or other undesirable circumstances Public Employment Relations Board (PERB): The administrative body that enforces the Taylor Law which is the labor law that governs labor relations in the public sector in New York State.


Re-opener Clause: A clause in a collective bargaining agreement providing for reopening negotiations on wage rates, and other benefits, during the term of the agreement "Right-to-Work" States: States which have passed laws prohibiting unions from negotiating union shop clauses in their contracts with employers covered by the NLRA. There are currently 22 "right-to-work" states, which are often referred to as "right-to-work-for-less" states. Most of these states are in the south and west.

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


Scab: A derogatory word for a person who continues to work, or who accepts employment, while the workers are on strike. By filling their jobs, the scab may weaken or break the 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. Steward: Another name for Delegate used by some unions.

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

Supervisor: Those employees who have management rights such as the rights to hire, fire, or recommend such action. The employees who are defined as supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act are not permitted to become members of the bargaining unit at the work location. Under the Public Employment Relations Act, many supervisors can be represented by unions, but in different bargaining units from the people they supervise.

Service Employee International Union (SEIU), The International: The North American union of healthcare, public sector, building service and other workers with Local unions throughout the United States and Canada. SEIU is the largest and fastest growing union in the AFL-CIO. 1199 is the largest and fastest growing local in SEIU.


Unfair Labor Practices: Those employer or union activities classified as "unfair" by federal (NLRB) or state (PERB) labor relations acts. Employer unfair labor practices include employer threats against protected collective activity, employer domination of unions, discrimination against employees for collective activity, and employer failure to bargain in good faith with union representatives. Union unfair labor practices include failure to fairly represent all members of the bargaining unit and failure to bargain in good faith.

Unilateral Change: Any change an employer makes without the union's consent. The subject of unilateral change is ever changing due to NLRB, PERB and court rulings. However, unilateral change falls into three categories: unilateral change before a first time contract, during bargaining, and during the contract's terms. The NLRB and PERB recognize that an employer must bargain all changes in regards to hours of work, rate of pay, and other conditions of employment with the employee's.

Union Security Clause: A provision in a collective bargaining agreement designed to protect the institutional life of the union, such as union ship and union dues check-off clauses. Union Shop: Form of union security provided in the collective bargaining agreement which requires employees to belong to or pay dues to the union as a condition of retaining employment.


Vesting: The amount of time that an employee must work to guarantee that his/her accrued pension benefits will not be forfeited even if employment is terminated.


"Weingarten Rights": The rights of employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act to request union representation during investigatory interviews if they reasonably believe that the interview could result in their being disciplined. "Weingarten rights" also guarantee the rights of union representatives to assist and counsel employees during interviews which could lead to discipline. Similar rights exist under public employment labor laws.

Wildcat Strike: A strike undertaken without official union authorization. Although not necessarily illegal, these strikes are not necessarily protected by the National Labor Relations Board and are often a violation of the contract. In public employment in New York and some other states, all strikes are illegal.

Work-to-Rule: A tactic in which workers agree to strictly follow all work rules, even those which are usually not followed. The result is that less work is performed or that the employer is forced to deal with more paperwork, putting pressure on the employer to settle workers' complaints. Some, but not all, work-to-rule campaigns are considered slowdowns, and may violate no-strike clauses in particular contracts or public sector laws.

Worker’s Compensation: The government program that provides benefits to workers who are injured on the job.

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