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U.S. Department of Labor History Glossary

By U.S. Department of Labor,
Constitution Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC 20210, U.S.A.


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AGENCY SHOP: A union security clause whereby all members of a bargaining unit must pay a service fee, the equivalent of dues, whether or not they are union members.

AMERICAN PLAN: A post-World War I employer movement which stressed freedom of industry to manage its business without union interference.

APPRENTICE: An individual in training for a skilled trade.

ARBITRATION: The referral of collective bargaining or grievance disputes to an impartial third party. Usually the arbitrator's decision is final and binding, although there is "advisory arbitration" in which the decision of the arbitrator is taken under advisement by the parties.

AUTOMATION: Self-correcting feedback and computer electronics. Also, dramatic technological innovation of any sort at the workplace. Often regarded by unions as a cause of unemployment, job alienation, and dislocation.


BARGAINING UNIT: A specified group of employees empowered to bargain collectively with their employer.

BLUE-COLLAR WORKERS: Those in private and public employment who engage in manual labor or the skilled trades.

BOYCOTT: The term originated in 1880 when an Irish landowner, Captain Charles Boycott, was denied all services. Today the expression means collective pressure on employers by refusal to buy their goods or services.

BREAD-AND-BUTTER UNIONISM: Also called "business unionism" or "pure-and-simple unionism." Adolph Strasser, president of the Cigar-Makers Union and one of the founders of the AFL, once told a Congressional Committee: "We have no ultimate ends. We are going from day to day. We fight only for immediate objectives--objectives that will be realized in a few years--we are all practical men."


CENTRAL LABOR COUNCIL: A city or county federation of local unions which are affiliated with different national or inter­national unions.

CHECKOFF: A clause in union contract authorizing the employer to deduct dues or service fees from employees' paychecks and remit them to the union.

CLOSED SHOP: The hiring and employment of union members only. Illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING: The determination of wages and other conditions of employment by direct negotiations between the union and employer.

COMPANY STORE: A store operated by a company for its em­ployees. Often prices were higher here than elsewhere. Oc­casionally, workers were paid in script redeemable only at the company store.

COMPANY UNION: An employee association organized, con­trolled, and financed by the employer. Outlawed by the Na­tional Labor Relations Act.

CONCILIATION: An attempt by an impartial third party to reconcile differences between labor and management.

CONSPIRACY CASES: The Philadelphia cordwainers' case in 1806 and subsequent decisions involving labor disputes declared unions to be unlawful conspiracies. In 1842 the court decision in Commonwealth v. Hunt said that under certain circum­stances unions were lawful.

CONSULTATION: Clauses in union contracts or in some state laws applicable to public employees stating that management must consult the union before making any major personnel changes.

CONTRACT LABOR: Workers signed a contract in Colonial times making them indentured servants for the life of the agree­ment. The system was later used to import Orientals into California and Hawaii and Italians and Greeks for work on the East Coast. It was bitterly fought by organized labor for the contract worker meant low wage competition.

COOPERATIVE STORE: A nonprofit store that is collectively owned and operated for the benefit of both the seller and the shopper.

COST-OF-LIVING INDEX: The Consumer Price Index prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Index measures changes in the cost of living month by month, year by year.

CRAFT UNIONS: Trade unions organized along lines of their skilled crafts. They formed the base of the American Federa­tion of Labor.

CRIMINAL SYNDICALISM: Syndicalism comes from the French word for union "syndicat." Syndicalists believe unions should run the economy. The term is associated with the Industrial Workers of the World. Half the states just after World War I passed criminal syndicalist laws. In California a person could be convicted for having once belonged to the IWW. In New Mexico, an employer could be prosecuted for hiring an "an­archist."


DAYWORK: The worker is paid a fixed amount for the day rather than being paid a salary or being paid for the individual piece produced.

DISCRIMINATION: Unequal treatment of workers because of race, sex, religion, nationality, or union membership.

DUAL-UNIONISM: The AFL expelled most CIO unions in 1937 for dual unionism because industrial unions were encroaching on the jurisdiction of craft unions within factories.


EMPLOYMENT ACT: Passed in 1946 by a Congress which intended to establish machinery to maintain full employment. A Council of Economic Advisers was created to survey the status of the American economy and to advise the President. The Act, however, failed to solve the unemployment problem.

ESCALATOR CLAUSE: A clause in the union contract which provides for a cost-of-living increase in wages by relating wages to changes in consumer prices. Usually the Consumer Price Index is used as the measure of price changes.

EXECUTIVE ORDER 10988: President John F. Kennedy issued this Executive Order which recognized the right of federal em­ployees to bargain with management.


FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT: Passed in 1938, this law set minimum wages and overtime rates and prohibited child labor for industry connected with interstate commerce.

FALL RIVER SYSTEM: The factory system which employed men, women, and children and made no special provisions for their housing.

FEATHERBEDDING:  Employing more workers than are actually necessary to complete a task.

FREE RIDER: A worker in the bargaining unit who refuses to join the union but accepts all the benefits negotiated by the union. Also called a "freeloader."

FRIENDLY SOCIETIES: Early labor groups formed by workers for social and philanthropic purposes.

FRINGE BENEFITS: Negotiated gains other than wages such as vacations, holidays, pensions, insurance and supplemental unemployment benefits.


GAG ORDER: President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order dubbed by unions "the gag order" which forbade federal employees on pain of dismissal to seek legislation on their behalf except through their own department.

GOON: A person brought in from the outside to break strikes and union-organizing attempts.

GOVERNMENT BY INJUNCTION: The use of the injunction by government to break strikes.

GREENBACKISM: Reference to partisans of the Greenback Party and the Greenback Labor Party of the 1870s. Greenbackers advocated increased issues of paper money to make cash more readily available to people. They also demanded shorter work hours, abolition of convict labor, boards of labor statistics, and restrictions on immigrant labor.

GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE: A committee within the local union which processes grievances arising from the violation of the contract, state or federal law, or an abuse of a shop's past practice.

GROG PRIVILEGES: The practice of allowing laborers to stop work and have an afternoon drink.


HANDICRAFT SYSTEM: A pre-industrial system where the skilled artisan found identity, pride, and self-worth in his work.

HOT CARGO: A clause in a union contract which says that workers cannot be compelled to handle goods from an employer involved in a strike.


IMPRESSMENT: The act of forcing American seamen into the service of the British Navy.

IMPROVEMENT FACTOR: An annual wage increase negotiated by the union and management which recognizes that the rising productivity of workers contributes to the company's profit­ability.

INCENTIVE PAY: A system based on the amount of production turned out by workers.

INDENTURED SERVANT: A person bound through a contract to the service of another for a specified amount of time.

INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY: A phrase once used to describe unions as a humanizing force at the workplace. In the 1970s it is corning to mean worker participation in management decision­making.

INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: The great advances in technology beginning in the late eighteenth century turned America from a handicraft economy into one of technological mass produc­tion.

INDUSTRIAL UNION: A union which includes all the workers in an industry regardless of their craft. Industrial unions formed the base of the CIO.

INJUNCTION: A court order which prohibits a party from taking a particular course of action, such as picketing in the case of a union on strike.

INTERNATIONAL UNION: A union with members in both the United States and Canada.


JOURNEYMAN: A worker who has completed his apprenticeship in a trade or craft and is therefore considered a qualified skilled worker.

JURISDICTIONAL DISPUTES: Arguments among unions over which union represents workers at a job site.


LANDRUM-GRIFFIN ACT: The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. The law contains regulations for union election procedures and supervision of their financial affairs by the U. S. Department of Labor.

LITTLE STEEL FORMULA: The World War II War Labor Board introduced the "Little Steel formula"' which tied the cost of living to wage increases "as a stabilization factor."

LOCKOUT: When an employer closes down the factory in order to coerce workers into meeting his demands or modifying their demands.

LOWELL SYSTEM: The system associated with Lowell, Massa­chusetts, whereby workers, mainly young women, lived in boarding houses owned and run by the company.


MAINTENANCE OF MEMBERSMP: A provision in the union con­tract which says that a worker who voluntarily joins the union must remain a member for the duration of the agreement.

MASSACRE: Union descriptions of tragic events in labor history. Examples include Chicago's Memorial Day Massacre where ten steelworkers were shot dead and over eighty were wounded by police on May 30, 1937. There was the Hilo, Hawaii, Massa­cre of 1938 where nearly fifty unionists were shot or bayonetted by police while sitting on a government pier protesting the unloading of a struck ship. Also, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 which included the killing of eleven children and two women by the state militia.

MAY DAY: In 1889 the International Socialist Congress meeting in Paris fixed May 1 as the day to publicize the eight-hour day because America's AFL was going to hold an eight-hour-day demonstration on May 1, 1890. Since that time May Day has become a major celebration in communist countries. President Eisenhower in 1955 proclaimed May 1 as "Loyalty Day."

MECHANICS INSTITUTES: A workers' education movement for self-improvement in the1830s and '40s.

MEDIATION: Attempts by an impartial third party to get labor and management to find agreement during a dispute.

MERIT SYSTEM: The major grievance of public employees was the indignity and insecurity fostered by the political patronage system which ruled government employment. They wanted a system where they would be hired and promoted on their merit. The merit system was introduced by passage of the Civil Service Act of 1883.

MINIMUM WAGE: The lowest rate of pay an employer is allowed to pay under the law or a union contract.

MODIFIED UNION SHOP: A provision in the union contract requiring all new employees to join the union and requiring all workers already in the union to remain as union members.

MOHAWK VALLEY FORMULA: Developed by James Rand, presi­dent of Remington Rand, in 1936 to break strikes. The formula included discrediting union leaders by calling them "agitators," threatening to move the plant, raising the banner of "law and order" to mobilize the community against the union, and actively engaging police in strike-breaking activity, then orga­nizing a back-to-work movement of pro-company employees. While the National Association of Manufacturers enthusi­astically published the plan, the National Labor Relations Board called it a battle plan for industrial war.

MOLLY MAGUIRES: A group of Irish miners who in the 1860s and '70s vandalized the mines and terrorized the bosses. Ten were hanged as the leaders of the conspiracy after Pinkerton agent, James McParland, exposed them in 1877.

MOONLIGHTING: Working more than one job.


NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT OF 1935: Also known as the "Wagner Act" after the law's chief sponsor, Senator Robert Wagner of New York. It represented a fundamental turnaround in government's attitudes toward labor relations. The law created a National Labor Relations Board to carry out its goals of guaranteeing the right of workers to form unions of their own choosing and to bargain collectively with employers.


ONE BIG UNION: The slogan of the IWW which stressed the inclusion of everyone, regardless of trade, into an all ­encompassing union. This was also the rationale for the general strike where workers in all types of employment would strike at the same time.

OPEN SHOP: A business that employs workers without regard to union membership. In the 1920s the "open shop" employed an ill-disguised attempt to get ride of bona fide unions. States with "Right to Work" laws have decreed the open shop.


PACE-SETTER: A method of speeding up work. The pace-setter is a person who sets the work pace, usually at an ever higher rate, by leading the work gang and necessitating its catching up with him.

PALMER RAIDS: In 1919-20, U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer conducted raids on the headquarters of alleged radicals. Unionists, liberals, radicals, and aliens were indiscriminately arrested and around four thousand were tried for their dissent from the status quo with little regard for their civil rights.

PATERNALISM: The company considered itself the father of its employees and as such had the responsibility of regulating their lives through company houses, stores, hospitals, theaters, sports programs, churches, publications, and codes of be­havior on and off the job. Paternalism was also prevalent in public employment. Teachers in 1915 were not permitted to marry, keep company with men, travel beyond the city limits, smoke, dress in bright colors, or wear skirts shorter than two inches above the ankles.

PERB: The abbreviation of state public employment relations boards.

PERQUISITES: In addition to payment of wages, the company provided employees with room, board, and medical care.

PICKETING: The stationing of persons outside a place of em­ployment to publically protest the employer and to discourage entry of nonstriking workers or customers. Most picketing takes place during strikes although there is also informational picket­ing conducted against nonunion business establishments.

PIECEWORK: The incentive wage system by which workers are paid by the individual piece worked on or completed.

PINKERTONS: Agents of the Allan Pinkerton Detective Agency of Chicago who were hired by employers to break strikes or act as company spies within unions. Some believe the expres­sion "Fink," a pejorative term for a worker not loyal to the union, originated by combining a common expletive with the word "Pinkerton."

POLITICAL ACTION: Unions engaged in political action at least as far back as the 1820s, when they demanded universal free public education and abolition of imprisonment for debt as their major social reform issues. Today, AFL-CIO and inde­pendent unions expend a substantial amount of money and effort in the promotion of their political causes. Their rationale is that what is gained at the bargaining table can be taken away from unions through legislation. AFL-CIO's formal political organization which functions at the national, state, community and local union level is the Committee on Political Education (COPE).

PREVAILING WAGE: In 1861, Congress passed a prevailing wage rate law which said in part: "That the hours of labor and the rates of wages of the employees in the navy yards shall con­form as nearly as possible with those of private establishments in the immediate vicinity of the respective yards."

PRODUCTIVITY: The measure of efficiency in production. The comparison of resources used in creating goods and services. If the same resources that were used in the past produce more goods and services, productivity has increased.

PROHIBITED PRACTICES: Generally used in public employment to describe unfair labor practices on the part of employer and employee organizations.


READING FORMULA: The procedure with which union recog­nition was achieved in factories during the 1930s. Rather than being compelled to strike for union recognition, the new Wag­ner Act provided a method of union representation elections which were conducted by the National Labor Relations Board.

REAL WAGES: Wages expressed in terms of what today's dollar will buy. A common method of determining buying power is through the Consumer Price Index.

REDEMPTIONER: A white emigrant from Europe who paid for his or her voyage to the New World by serving as a servant for a specific period of time. Also known as a freewiller.

RIGHT TO WORK LAWS: The term used by opponents of unions to institute open-shop laws in the state. The expression has nothing to do with guaranteeing anyone the right to a job.


SABOTAGE: From the French word "sabot" or wooden shoe which workers threw into the machines to keep them from working. Workers have been perpetually fearful that new machines would take their jobs away from them and sabotage was one of their early answers to the Industrial Revolution. It was also a part of strike violence where strikers incapacitated machines or buildings in order to shut down production.

SCAB: A worker who refuses to join the union or who works while others are striking. Also known as a "strikebreaker."

SECONDARY BOYCOTT: An effort to disrupt the business of an employer through boycott techniques, even though his own workers are not directly involved in the labor dispute.

SENIORITY: A worker's length of service with an employer. In union contracts, seniority often determines layoffs from work and recalls back to work.

SEPARATION PAY: Payment to a worker who is permanently laid off his job through no fault of his own.

SERVICE FEE: Money, usually the equivalent of union dues, which members of an agency shop bargaining unit pay the union for negotiating and administering the collective bargain­ing agreement.

SHOP UNION: Established by the Knights of Labor in the 1880s. Shop unions in the factory carried out the rule enforcements of the local assemblies.

SIT-DOWN STRIKE: In June, 1934, Rex Murray, president of the General Tire local in Akron, Ohio, discussed a pending strike with fellow unionists. If they hit the bricks, the police would beat them up. But if they sat down inside the plant and hugged the machines, the police wouldn't use violence. They might hurt the machines! So began the era of the sit­down strikes effectively used by unions like the Rubber Workers and Auto Workers to build the CIO. The sit-down period lasted only through 1937, but it provided labor history with one of its most colorful chapters.

SLOWDOWN: A form of protest where workers deliberately lessen the amount of work for a particular purpose.

SOCIAL UNIONISM: Unions which look beyond immediate objec­tives to try to reform social conditions and which also consider unionism as a means of appealing to needs of members which are not strictly economic. In addition to fighting for economic gains, social unions have education, health, welfare, artistic, recreation, and citizenship programs to attempt to satisfy needs of members' whole personalities. Labor, social unionists believe, has an obligation to better the general society.

SPEED UP: A word used by workers to describe employer attempts to increase their output without increasing their wages.

STATE SOVEREIGNTY: The idea that the state is king and public employees had no right to make demands on it. In 1949 a New York court said: "To tolerate or recognize any com­bination of civil service employees of the government as a labor organization or union is not only incompatible with the spirit of democracy but inconsistent with every principle upon which our government is founded."

STOOLPIGEON: A person hired by an employer to infiltrate the union and report on its activities.

STRETCHOUT: A workload increase that does not grant a com­mensurate pay increase.

STRIKE: A temporary work stoppage by workers to support their demands on an employer. Also called a "turn out" early in the nineteenth century.

SUBCONTRACTING: The practice of employers getting work done by an outside contractor and not by workers in the bargaining unit. Also called "contracting out."

SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: A provision in the union contract which provides laid-off workers with benefits in addition to unemployment compensation.

SYMPATHY STRIKE: A strike by persons not directly involved in a labor dispute in order to show solidarity with the original strikers and increase pressure on the employer.


TAFT-HARTLEY: In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act which outlawed the closed shop, jurisdictional strikes, and secondary boycotts. It set up machinery for decertifying unions and allowed the states to pass more stringent legisla­tion against unions such as right-to-work laws. Employers and unions were forbidden to contribute funds out of their treasuries to candidates for federal office, supervision was denied union protection, and the unions seeking the services of the National Labor Relations Board had to file their constitutions, by-laws, and financial statements with the U.S. Department of Labor. Their officers also had to sign a non-communist affidavit.

TAYLORISM: Associated with the principles of "scientific management" advocated by Frederick W. Taylor at the begin­ning of the twentieth century. Tayor proposed time and motion studies of jobs to enable managers to set standards for more efficient production. Unions argued that Taylorism was the old speed up in modern dress.

TENANT FARMER: When southern plantations were broken up after the Civil War, blacks and poor whites were controlled by landowners through sharecropping. The tenant farmer paid roughly a third of his crop to the landlord, a third for provisions, tools, and other necessities, and. he kept whatever was left. Unsuccessful efforts were made in the 1930s to orga­nize tenant farmers by the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. More sustained attempts at farm worker organization are being made today.


UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: A system of clandestine routes to­ward Canada whereby abolitionists helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom.

UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES: Defined by the National Labor Relations Act and by the Taft-Hartley Act as practices of discrimination, coercion, and intimidation prohibited to labor and management. Management cannot form company unions or use coercive tactics to discourage union organization. Unions cannot force workers to join organizations not of their own choosing.

UNION LABEL: A stamp or a tag on products to show that the work was done by union labor.

UNION SECURITY: A clause in the contract providing for the union shop, maintenance of membership or the agency shop.

UNION SHOP: A shop where every member; of the bargaining unit must become a member of the union after a specified amount of time.


WALKING DELEGATE: A unionist who policed jobs to see that workers were getting fair treatment.

WHITE-COLLAR WORKERS: Workers who have office jobs rather than factory, farm, or construction work.

WOBBLIES: A nickname for members of the Industrial Workers of the World. The origin of the word is unknown.

WORKIES: A nickname for members of the workingmen's associ­ations in the 1820s and '30s.


YELLOW-DOG CONTRACT: A contract a worker was compelled to sign stating that he or she would not join a union. The practice was outlawed in 1932 by the passage of the Norris ­LaCuardia Act.

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Source: http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/glossary.htm

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