15 Labor Union Terms Every Member Should Know

15 Labor Union Terms Every Member Should Know

Union contracts by their nature are packed with special terms. Few members start out knowing all of the terms that come with a union job. Learning important union terms will help you understand the depth and scope of your contract. Familiarity with terms could empower you as you progress through your career.

1. Arbitration

Arbitration is a dispute resolution process that takes place outside of court. Parties in dispute present their positions and evidence to a neutral third party called an arbitrator. The arbitrator has the power to decide the outcome of the dispute.

2. Bargaining Unit

The group of employees represented by the union.

3. California Code of Civil Procedure Sections 1285

This state law enables an award made by an arbitrator to be vacated should the arbitrator’s decision be found in violation of the law. The union has 100 days to file a petition under this code challenging an arbitrator’s decision.

4. California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

Under this state law, eligible employees have the right to take 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave during a 12-month period. During a CFRA leave, the employee retains the right to return to work and receive employer-paid health benefits while on leave. Serious health conditions and the birth or adoption of a child represent the primary qualifications for a job-protected leave.

5. Concerted Activities

The term concerted activities, describes collective actions by union members, normally in the context of actions not authorized by the union. For example, an unauthorized strike or sympathy strike.

6. Executive Order 1096 Revised

This EO requires university employees to receive training about the identification and prevention of discrimination, harassment, retaliation, sexual misconduct, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. The revised order takes into account federal regulations that supersede state regulations.

7. Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA functions similarly to CFRA in that eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for self or a family member due to childbirth, adoption, or a medical problem. To qualify, you need to have been employed for at least one academic year or 12 months. During such a leave, you remain active on an employer-paid health plan.

8. Grievance

Article 10 of the APC Contract defines grievance as a written allegation about a “violation, misapplication, or misinterpretation” of a term within the contract. The contract allows the union as a whole, a subgroup of members, or an individual member to prepare a grievance.


This term refers to the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) of 1979. Certain definitions within HEERA are used to determine which university employees are not included in our bargaining unit. According to Appendix B of the APC contract, the bargaining unit excludes “management, supervisory, and confidential employees as defined in the HEERA.”

10. Information Practices Act of 1977

This law limits the scope of personal information that California public agencies can collect and maintain about people. In the interest of accuracy and correcting mistakes, people have the right to request information on file about them and ask for corrections. In regards to investigating a grievance, a grievant or a grievant’s representative can request information but may be limited by the privacy restrictions established by this law.

11. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

The APC contract currently has three Memoranda of Understanding attached to it. Although an MOU does establish an agreement as legally binding, it shows that the parties involved have expressed a formal commitment to the contents of the MOU.

12. Military Exigency Leave

Article 22 describes the various leaves that members may qualify for under certain circumstances. Military Exigency Leave serves as a form of leave similar to Family Medical Leave except that it applies to issues that the family member of a military service member may experience when that person is deployed.

13. PERB

The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) administers laws that govern collective bargaining activities among unions at California’s public agencies. PERB may conduct investigations and hold hearings to resolve questions and disputes outside of court.

14. Ratification

Once the union and the employer negotiate a contract, members may vote whether to accept or decline the contract. Ratification occurs when the union membership votes to accept the contract.

15. Reclassification

Reclassification describes a change in an employee’s duties and responsibilities. This may occur either through an increase or decrease in job status with a corresponding increase or decrease in pay and benefits.