Glossary of labor terms

A critical part of any negotiation is a common understanding of the terminology involved with labor law. The following are commonly used terms and their definition.




ACROSS THE BOARD INCREASE—A raise in wages, in terms of dollars or a percentage, given at one time to all employees in a bargaining unit.



AGENCY SHOP—A bargaining unit in a workplace in which all the workers whom the union is legally required to represent must either pay the union dues, an agency fee or a representation fee.

AGENCY FEE—A fee paid by an employee who objects to becoming a member of a union.  The agency fee is usually equal to union dues.

AMERICAN ARBITRATION ASSOCIATION (AAA)—A private, non-profit organization that promotes arbitration as a method for settling disputes outside of the courtroom. (Many of the collective bargaining agreements reference AAA as the agreed-upon service to supply an arbitrator).

ARBITRATION—A method of settling a labor-management dispute by having an impartial third party hold a formal hearing, take testimony and render a final and binding decision.

BARGAINING UNIT—A group of employees that the Public Employment Relations Commission or the Marine Employees Commission has certified as appropriate to be represented by a union for the purposes of collective bargaining.

BARGAINING REPRESENTATIVE—Any lawful organization that has as one of its primary purposes the representation of employees in their employment relations with employers. [RCW 41.56.030(3)]

CAUCUS—A meeting of a small group to plan strategy.  Often applied to a bargaining team meeting to discuss proposals and determine bargaining strategy.

CLOSED SHOP—A contract provision requiring employees to be union members before they are hired.  The Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the closed shop in the United States in 1947, but permits the union or agency shop.

COALITION BARGAINING—Collective bargaining in which one or both parties represents a group of parties.  For example, under RCW 41.80 bargaining between the state and all exclusive bargaining representatives that represent fewer than 500 employees is done in a coalition, and the dollar amount expended for each employee for health care benefits is bargained by a coalition of all affected unions.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING—The performance of the mutual obligation of the representative of the employer and the exclusive bargaining representative to meet at reasonable times and to bargain in good faith in an effort to reach agreement with respect to wages, hours and working conditions.  The obligation does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or to make a concession.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING REPRESENTATIVE—For the Washington State Ferries, the persons designated by the governor and employee organizations to be the exclusive representatives during collective bargaining negotiations. [RCW 47.64.011(1)]

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT (CBA)—The contract that embodies the results of the negotiations between the employer and the exclusive bargaining representative, and sets forth their agreements.

COMMUNITY OF INTEREST—A group of factors, such as duties, skills, working conditions, reporting lines and other job-related issues, to be considered in determining whether a group of employees should be grouped together as an appropriate bargaining unit.

CONCERTED ACTIVITY—Action taken by an employee or employees (generally on behalf of fellow-workers) in order to improve working conditions or benefits. Bargaining law considers this type of activity protected from retaliation or reprisal.

CONFIDENTIAL EMPLOYEES—Those employees who by the nature of their work have access to information that is used in the development of employer collective bargaining strategies or policies.  Therefore, confidential employees are not eligible to be represented by a union in collective bargaining.

COSTING OUT—The process of determining the actual cost of a contract proposal or agreement.

COUNTER PROPOSAL—An offer made by one party in collective bargaining negotiations in response to a proposal by the other party.

DECERTIFICATION—The withdrawal by the Public Employment Relations Commission or the Marine Employees Commission of a union's designation as exclusive representative, usually as a result of the loss of an election called for by employee petition.

DUES DEDUCTION—The withholding, by the employer, of union dues and fees from employees' salary payments and the transmittal of these funds to the union. In the state of Washington, employees must provide written authorization in order for the dues and fees to be withheld from their paychecks.

DUTY OF FAIR REPRESENTATION (DFR)—The legal obligation for a union to fairly represent all employees in the bargaining unit without regard to factors such as union membership or membership in a protected class.

DUTY TO BARGAIN—The legally enforceable obligation of each party in a collective bargaining relationship to meet at reasonable times and places and negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.

EMPLOYEE ORGANIZATION—Any organization, union or association in which employees participate and that exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of collective bargaining with employers. [RCW 41.80.005 (7)]

EXCLUSIVE BARGAINING REPRESENTATIVE—An employee organization identified by the Public Employment Relations Commission or the Marine Employees Commission as the sole, official representative to bargain collectively for the employees in a bargaining unit. The exclusive bargaining representative is usually referred to as the "union."

FEDERAL MEDIATION AND CONCILIATION SERVICES (FMCS)—An independent, federal agency that provides mediation, conflict resolution, training, and arbitration services to the private sector and governmental agencies.

GOOD FAITH BARGAINING—The legal requirement that two parties in a collective bargaining relationship meet and negotiate at reasonable times and places, with a willingness to reach an agreement on the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

GRIEVANCE—Generally, this is a formal complaint filed by the union alleging a violation, misapplication or misinterpretation of one or more terms of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. Collective bargaining agreements vary and may define this term differently.

ILLEGAL (PROHIBITED) SUBJECTS OF BARGAINING—Topics that the parties are forbidden to bargain over. For example, under 41.80, the state retirement plan is a prohibited topic of bargaining. Other bargaining laws have different illegal subjects.

IMPASSE—That point in collective bargaining negotiations at which either party determines that no further progress can be made toward reaching an agreement.

INTEREST ARBITRATION—A process whereby the issues not resolved in bargaining between the employer and the union may be presented to an impartial arbitrator for final resolution. (This differs from grievance arbitration, wherein the arbitrator interprets a term in an existing contract.) Washington State Ferries employees, home care individual providers, and commissioned officers of the Washington State Patrol are examples of bargaining units with access to interest arbitration.

JUST CAUSE—Referenced in most of the collective bargaining agreements, a widely used term that requires the employer to use good and sufficient reasons to discipline employees. There are generally accepted elements of just cause that an employer must prove to an arbitrator in order for the disciplinary action to be upheld.

MANAGEMENT RIGHTS—The inherent rights of an employer to make decisions regarding its business. These may be expressly reserved to management in a collective bargaining agreement, or, as in RCW 41.80, they may be removed from the scope of collective bargaining by law.

MANDATORY SUBJECTS OF BARGAINING—Bargaining issues that neither party may refuse to negotiate. They include wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.

MARINE EMPLOYEES COMMISSION (MEC)—A commission whose members are appointed by the Governor to adjust all complaints, grievances and disputes between labor and management arising out of the operation of the ferry system, and to provide for impasse mediation of collective bargaining issues if requested by the parties. [RCW 47.64.280]

MASTER AGREEMENT—Under RCW 41.80, the collective bargaining agreements agreed to between the Governor's designee and each exclusive bargaining representative that represents 500 or more employees.

MEDIATION—If one or both parties decide that negotiations are at impasse, either or both may call in a mediator, who is a neutral third party. The mediator has no power to force a settlement, but works with the parties to help them arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement.

MEMBERSHIP FEE—The amount an employee pays for full rights of membership in the union, also referred to as union dues. The amount is set by the union, and may be a flat fee and/or a percentage of pay.

MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING (MOU)—A formal, signed agreement that serves as an addendum to the collective bargaining agreement. A MOU usually addresses a significant issue that emerged during the term of the agreement, and it represents the mutual understanding between the parties on that issue. An MOU can also be referred to as a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), a Letter of Understanding (LOU) or a Letter of Agreement (LOA).

NONASSOCIATION—The right of a bargaining unit employee based on bona fide religious tenets, or teachings of a church or religious body of which the employee is a member, not to join the union or support its collective bargaining activities. Instead the employee may pay an amount equal to union dues to the union, which under RCW 41.80.100(2) must be used for “purposes within the program of the employee organization as designated by the employee that would be in harmony with his or her individual conscience;” or under 41.56.122(1) and 47.64.160 must be paid to an agreed-upon charitable organization.

PAST PRACTICE—The history of the way parties have behaved toward one another in the past that bears upon the expectations the parties have regarding negotiations in the future. Such practices, sanctioned by use and acceptance, are not specifically included in the collective bargaining agreement. To constitute a past practice the issue must be: 1) clear to the parties; 2) consistent in its application over a period of time; and 3) condoned by the parties. Arbitrators use past practice to interpret ambiguous language in the collective bargaining agreement.

PERMISSIVE SUBJECT OF BARGAINING—Issues that are neither mandatory nor prohibited. Parties may agree to negotiate them, but neither party may insist upon its positions on a permissive topic to the point of impasse.

PROHIBITED (ILLEGAL) SUBJECTS OF BARGAINING—These include proposals for bargaining that would violate state or federal laws. Under RCW 41.80.040, state retirement plans and retirement benefits are prohibited subjects of bargaining. Other bargaining laws have different prohibited subjects.

PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS COMMISSION (PERC)—A commission whose members are appointed by the Governor to adopt and enforce rules relating to the determination of appropriate bargaining units; to make determinations relating to the certification and decertification of exclusive bargaining representatives; and to adjudicate unfair labor practice cases in the public sector of the state of Washington. [RCW 41.06.340, RCW 41.80 (various provisions), RCW 41.56, and RCW 41.58]

RATIFICATION—Formal approval of a newly-negotiated agreement by a vote of the employees in a bargaining unit. Eligible voters in a union ratification are determined by the union's bylaws and constitution. For most Washington state employees, the ratified agreements are then subject to legislative approval of the economic terms.

RECOGNITION—Acknowledgment by a public employer that a particular employee organization has the right to represent employees in an appropriate bargaining unit.

REPRESENTATION FEE—In an agency shop, an amount an employee may pay that is no greater than the part of the membership fee that represents a pro rata share of union expenditures for purposes germane to the collective bargaining process, to contract administration, or to pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and other conditions of employment.

SHOP STEWARD—A bargaining unit member selected by a group of fellow members and/or appointed by union officials to carry out union representational duties in the workplace.

STRIKE—A temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees, not necessarily union members, to express a complaint, enforce a demand for changes in conditions of employment, obtain recognition, or resolve a dispute with management. The right to strike is not granted to employees of the state of Washington. [RCW 41.80.060, RCW 41.56.120, and RCW 47.64.140]

TENTATIVE AGREEMENT—The agreement reached through bargaining prior to its ratification or final approval by the negotiators’ constituencies.

UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICE—Practices by either party that interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their collective bargaining rights granted by statute. These illegal practices are specifically defined in RCW 41.80.110, RCW 41.56.140 and 150, and RCW 47.64.130.

UNION DUES—Union dues are the basic fees that employees pay on a monthly basis to the union in order to obtain membership rights. The amount of dues is set by the union and can vary greatly from union to union.

UNION SECURITY PROVISION—The part of the collective bargaining agreement that addresses union membership, which directly affects union dues and fees.

RCW 41.80 permits such provisions, and allows contractual language that requires all bargaining unit members to pay an agency shop fee equal to the amount required to be a member of the union (known as a membership fee or union dues). However, if a contract has an agency shop arrangement, the union must have a procedure to allow employees to pay a representation fee instead. The representation fee is equal to the part of the membership fee that represents a pro rata share of the cost of negotiations, grievance processing, contract administration and “pursuing matters affecting wages, hours and working conditions.”

Said another way, RCW 41.80 permits agency shops with agency shop fees, as long as those agency shop fees are not greater than membership fees, and the union provides a procedure for paying a reduced amount, knows as a representation fee.

RCW 41.56 and RCW 47.64 contain similar provisions for other groups of state employees who are not covered by RCW 41.80.

UNION SHOP—A contract provision requiring that employees must join the union within a specified time period after hire and must remain a member while employed. (See Agency shop)

ZIPPER CLAUSE—A provision in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stating that the written CBA is the complete agreement between the parties and that any practice or agreement not contained in the CBA is null and void unless reduced to writing and signed by both parties (also known as the entire agreement clause).