GEO Glossary: your complete guide to union jargon

GENERAL
Bargaining Unit: The workers who are legally represented by a union and are covered under the terms of the union’s contract. The unit may include all employees or may be limited according to type of work performed. At the University of Illinois, the GEO bargaining unit is approximately 2700 GAs and TAs. The GEO is legally required to represent and negotiate on behalf of all of its bargaining unit members, regardless of whether or not they are members of the union.
Collective Bargaining: Negotiation over issues of employment (benefits, workloads, grievances, etc.) where elected union delegates and negotiators represent a group of employees to the administration for the purpose of forming a contract.
Contract: A legally binding agreement (reached through collective bargaining), between a union and an employer, governing terms of employment, such as wages, benefits, working conditions, policies, etc. The GEO completed its first contract with the University in 2004. We’ll begin negotiating our 2nd contract in the Spring/Summer 2006.
Fair Share: Under a union security clause of a union contract, the amount a nonunion member must contribute to a union to support collective bargaining activities. This arrangement is justified on the grounds that the union is obliged to represent all employees faithfully.
Grievance: A dispute arising between the employer and one or more employees or the union.
Job Action: A concerted 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.
Organizing: Building relationships with members and potential members through one-on-one conversations with the goal of increased commitment to the union (e.g. non members becoming members, members becoming stewards, etc.).
Recognition: Formal acceptance of a union by an employer for the purposes of collective bargaining. Recognition can be either “legal” or “voluntary,” depending on whether the employer recognizes the union within or outside a legal framework.
Strike: Temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees (not necessarily members of a union) to express a grievance, enforce a demand for changes in the conditions of employment, obtain recognition, or resolve a dispute with management. Wildcat Strike: a strike not sanctioned by a union.
Union Dues: Monthly payment by members to their unions. The amount is set by either the constitution or bylaws, and is subject to revision by the membership. Payments are based on fixed amounts or the individual member’s hourly rate.
UNION PEOPLE
Activist: A union member who helps build the union by organizing other workers or participating in governance.
Bargaining Unit: The workers who are legally represented by a union and are covered under the terms of the union’s contract. At the University of Illinois, the GEO bargaining unit is approximately 2700 GAs and TAs. The GEO is legally required to represent and negotiate on behalf of all of its bargaining unit members, regardless of whether or not they are members of the union.
Member: Any graduate student who decides to join the GEO and pay monthly union dues. Membership is required to vote on a proposed contract or job action or for union officer positions.
Officer: A union member elected to a leadership position by the membership at a General Membership Meeting.
Organizer: A union member who discusses union issues with a small group of fellow graduate employees and organizes them to become members, attend meetings, and volunteer. Organizers speak weekly with their steward. They report whether graduate employees actively support GEO’s goals and relay any questions, suggestions and concerns of the rank and file. Stewards give the organizer updates on bargaining and solicit feedback.
Rank and File: Union members who don’t actively organize other members but may volunteer and attend membership and departmental meetings.
Staff: Employees of the union. Currently, we have 2 full-time Staff Organizers and 1 part-time Administrative Assistant.
Steward: A union member responsible for coordinating organizing and developing internal leadership within a department by supervising, recruiting and training organizers and other stewards.
UNION GOVERNANCE
Bargaining Committee: The GEO committee that prepares for contract negotiations with the university. Preparations include research, implementing a bargaining survey, developing a bargaining platform, and assisting the Bargaining Team.
Bargaining Team: The GEO team which negotiates our contract with representatives of the University of Illinois. The Bargaining Team for our next contract negotiations will probably consist of 4-6 graduate employees who have studied and developed the skills necessary to be effective negotiators.
Coordinating Committee: The committee of elected officers of the GEO which meets bi-weekly to steer the direction of the union and attend to business details.
Steward’s Council: A decision-making body of the GEO composed of departmental stewards. At monthly meetings, stewards discuss organizing strategies as well as union initiatives and endorsements.
IFT: Illinois Federation of Teachers, the state “union of unions” to which the GEO belongs. The IFT represents approximately 85,000 elementary and secondary school teachers, school-related personnel and support staff, higher education faculty and staff, and public employees across the state.
AFT: American Federation of Teachers, the national union with which the GEO is affiliated. The AFT represents over one million workers including teachers at all levels, school support staff, public employees, health care workers, and over 16,000 graduate employees.
AFL-CIO: The American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations is a national federation of 60 unions – including the AFT – which together represent over 9 million workers.
BARGAINING TERMINOLOGY
Bargaining Agent: Union designated by a government agency, such as the National Labor Relations Board, or recognized voluntarily by the employer, as the exclusive representative of all employees in the bargaining unit for purposes of collective bargaining.
Bargaining Unit: The workers who are legally represented by a union and are covered under the terms of the union’s contract. The unit may include all employees or may be limited according to type of work performed. At the University of Illinois, the GEO bargaining unit is approximately 2700 GAs and TAs. The GEO is legally required to represent and negotiate on behalf of all of its bargaining unit members, regardless of whether or not they are members of the union.
Collective Bargaining: Negotiation over issues of employment (benefits, workloads, grievances, etc.) where elected union delegates and negotiators represent a group of employees to the administration for the purpose of forming a contract.
Contract: A legally binding agreement (reached through collective bargaining), between a union and an employer, governing terms of employment, such as wages, benefits, working conditions, policies, etc. The GEO has been engaged in contract negotiations with the University of Illinois since Spring 2003.
Fair Share: Under a union security clause of a union contract, the amount a nonunion member must contribute to a union to support collective bargaining activities. This arrangement is justified on the grounds that the union is obliged to represent all employees faithfully.
Grievance: A dispute arising between the employer and one or more employees.
Impasse: In general usage, a term referring to a situation where two parties cannot agree on a solution to a dispute. In legal usage, if impasse is reached, the employer is legally permitted to unilaterally impose its latest offer.
Job Action: A concerted 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 an employee. An employer must show just cause only if a contract requires it. Most contracts have just cause requirements which place the burden of proof for just cause on the employer.
Labor Relations Board: A quasi-judicial agency set up under the collective bargaining laws of certain states to adjudicate complaints that allege unfair labor practices, resolve unit determination disputes, certify bargaining agents, and in general monitor the implementation of collective bargaining laws.
Mandatory Subject of Bargaining: Those items included under wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment over which an employer must bargain. An employer may not make a change in a mandatory bargaining subject without providing prior notice to the union and an opportunity to bargain.
Mediation: Intervention by a third party during impasse.
Past Practice: A customary way of doing things not written into the collective bargaining agreement. Past practices can sometimes be enforced through the grievance procedure if the practice has been longstanding, consistent, and accepted by the parties.
Permissive Subject of Bargaining: Subjects of bargaining other than those considered to be mandatory (see mandatory subject of bargaining). Either party may propose discussion of such a subject, and the other party may voluntarily bargain on it. Neither party may insist to the point of impasse on the inclusion of a voluntary subject in a contract. For example, the employer may not legally insist on bargaining over the method of selecting stewards or the method of taking a strike vote.
Recognition: When the employer agrees to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for employees.
Strike: Temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees (not necessarily members of a union) to express a grievance, enforce a demand for changes in the conditions of employment, obtain recognition, or resolve a dispute with management. Wildcat Strike: a strike not sanctioned by a union.
Surface Bargaining: Often referred to as a perfunctory tactic whereby an employer meets with the union, but only goes through the motions of bargaining. Such conduct on the part of the employer is considered a violation of the employer’s duty to bargain.
Unfair Labor Practice (ULP): Action by either an employer or union which violates the provisions of national and state labor relations acts, such as refusal to bargain in good faith.
Union Dues: Monthly payment by members to their unions. The amount is set by either the constitution or bylaws, and is subject to revision by the membership. Payments are based on fixed amounts or the individual member’s hourly rate.
ORGANIZING TOOLS
Action: An event planned by the union to put pressure on the administration and to demonstrate grad employee support for a particular goal, like a fair contract. Actions can range from rallies and informational pickets, which don’t require membership approval, to walkouts and strikes, which must be voted upon by the membership,
Bargaining Survey: A feedback and organizing tool designed to give grad employees a voice in the bargaining process by soliciting their suggestions on a contract. The survey also provides the basis for an organizing conversation.
Organizing Conversation: An intentional and directed conversation about the union. The union organizer typically offers information about the union, listens to and identifies the worker’s issues, assesses the worker’s support, and asks the worker for greater participation in the union, such as becoming a member, attending a meeting, doing a volunteer task, or becoming an organizer.
Testimonial: A story from a graduate employee explaining why she or he believes a specific policy needs to be covered in a contract. The GEO collects testimonials from supporters to present to the university administration to build a case for our bargaining platform. Testimonials are also used to build public support for the union’s positions.
ACTIONS
Action: Public event designed to draw attention to and further the organization’s aims. Job Actions involve altering or withholding labor. Direct Actions involve rallies, marches, sit-ins, work-ins, etc.
Civil Disobedience: Deliberate and controlled breaking of or noncompliance with the law; designed to draw attention to an injustice. A sit-in is an example of civil disobedience, the Boston Tea Party is another.
Informational Picket: Protest held outside a building, usually involving circling with picket signs, offering information about the injustice being protested through leaflets, speeches, etc.
Strike for Recognition: Withholding labor for an indefinite amount of time for the purpose of gaining recognition. Sometimes also simply and casually called a “strike,” though strikes can be held for purposes other than recognition (e.g., for a particular contract).
Strike Referendum: Also called a “strike vote.” According to the G.E.O. Constitution, in order to hold a “strike” at least half of the G.E.O.’s currently employed (i.e., non-fellowship) and dues-paying membership must vote on the issue, with at least 2/3rd of that membership voting “yes.” Thus to hold a “strike referendum” means to hold any vote which must meet those requirements.
Work Stoppage: Also called a “walk-out.” Withholding labor for a set amount of time (compare with “strike,” which is for an indefinite amount of time). Can be done with all the union at once, or any sections of the union (e.g., all T.A.s, or 4 targeted departments). Usage note: Some consider the “work stoppage” to be a form of “strike.” According to this usage, a full-out strike may be distinguished from a work stoppage by calling that strike an “open-ended strike” or a “strike for recognition.”