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History of Labor Unions Terms

Industrial Union

A type of labor organization that unites all workers within a particular industry, regardless of craft or specific job, within one union. The American Railways Union was an industrial union. It united all workers within the railroad industry, such as firemen, brakemen, laborers in railroad car manufacturing plants, and railroad yard employees in the same union.

An alliance of all workers within an industry regardless of their particular craft or skill level. For example, the American Railways Union, founded in 1893, combined fireman and brakemen, engineers and railroad car manufacturing workers within the same labor alliance.

Craft Union

A type of labor organization that unites only the members of particular trade or craft. The American Federation of Labor, founded in 1886, increased the strength of independent craft unions by uniting them under one organizational umbrella.

An alliance of workers in a particular trade such as carpenters or masons. Also called a trade union.

American Plan

Sloganeering effort by business during the 1920s that held union shops to be a denial of workers' freedom and therefore un-American.


A way for workers and managers to settle grievances by submitting them to a third party with the power to render a compromise solution. Many labor contracts contain provisions for binding arbitration.


A list of union sympathizers that was circulated among employers so they could avoid hiring those who might encourage organization in the workplace. Though it is technically illegal, the process of blacklisting survives in subtle forms.


Stay away from something on principle; Refuse to buy something as a protest. Also, as a noun: A ban on something on principle.


The process by which the NLRB gives a union the exclusive bargaining rights with a company's management after the firm's employees elect to be represented.


A process by which union dues are deducted from an employee's pay check. Union members must give their authorization for a checkoff, which makes the union's operation more efficient.

Closed Shop

The requirement that employees join a union before they could be hired. The closed shop was declared illegal by the Taft-Hartley Act, with limited exceptions made for the hiring halls in the construction and maritime trades.

A shop or business that hires only union members. The closed shop is prohibited under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947.

Collective Bargaining

The process by which workers, organized together in a union, negotiate a contract with their employer. The right to collective bargaining is considered to be the bedrock principle of the labor movement.

The most common way for employers and workers to settle their differences. Collective bargaining takes place when a union representing the collected employees sits down with managers to hammer out a contract.

Company Union

An association of employees that is directly dependent on management. Now technically illegal, the company union was a way to block real, independent unions.


A union requirement for more workers on the job than are needed. The term was coined in the 1940s when railroad unions required firemen on trains that used neither wood nor coal.

Fringe Benefits

Compensation other than cash, such as health insurance or a pension plan. Fringe benefits became an important part of labor contracts after World War II.

General Strike

A work stoppage that involved all union members in a city or region, not just those in a particular industry. A tactic in the early days of the labor movement.

Grievance Procedure

A formal method for working out the details of a labor contract so that minor disputes will not continue to rankle between the parties.


A lockout occurs when management temporarily closes a plant or lays off all workers because of a labor dispute. Technically, companies can no longer call a lockout in order to prevent union organizing or to avoid collective bargaining.

A tactic used by employers to force workers to negotiate. During a lockout, management refuses to permit workers to enter the plant until management’s terms are accepted.

Open Shop

A workplace without union representation or one with a union where no worker is required to join.

A shop or business that does not make union membership in any way a condition of employment.

Permanent Replacement Workers

Employees hired to take the jobs of those who have gone out on strike. A more polite term for what the labor movement always called scabs.

Rank And File

The members of a union as distinct from union leaders.

Right-to-Work Law

A state statute that prohibits a union shop. More than 25 states, many of them in the South, have such laws. Since labor unions' strength derives from the solidarity of all employees, these laws tend to weaken or destroy unions.

Shop Steward

A worker who is also a union representative and is authorized to settle minor disputes between workers and managers based on an interpretation of the union contract.

Union Shop

A workplace in which all employees must join a designated union within a specific time after being hired. Some see a union shop as an infringement on an individual employee's freedom. Unions feel that it is unfair that a worker should benefit from union efforts without being a member.

A shop or business that requires workers to join a union after they are hired.

Workers Compensation

Insurance programs enacted by all states that provide for workers hurt on the job and prohibit workers from suing their employers over injuries.

Work Rules

Rules that cover how work is performed and under what conditions. Work rules might, for example, prevent managers from doing production work or forbid assigning to a worker a task outside his immediate job. Work rules are spelled out in union contracts.

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