U.S. Department of Labor History Glossary
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.
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
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.
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
CLOSED SHOP: The hiring and employment
of union members only. Illegal under the Taft-Hartley
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
MECHANICS INSTITUTES: A workers' education
movement for self-improvement in the1830s and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
SUBCONTRACTING: The practice of employers
getting work done by an outside contractor and not
by workers in the bargaining unit. Also called "contracting
SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS:
A provision in the union contract which provides laid-off
workers with benefits in addition to unemployment
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
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
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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