Terms & Definitions

Across the board increase or Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)
A general raise in wages applied at one time to the pay ranges of employees in a bargaining unit, also referred to as a “general wage increase.”

Arbitration
A method of settling a labor-management dispute by having an impartial third party hold a formal hearing, take testimony, and render a final and binding decision.

Bargaining unit
A group of employees that the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) has certified as appropriate to be represented by a union for the purposes of collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining
The process by which management and union representatives negotiate the employment conditions for a bargaining unit for a designated period of time. The parties have a mutual obligation to bargain in good faith in an effort to reach agreement with respect to wages, hours, and working conditions. This obligation does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or to make a concession. Commonly referred to as “negotiations” or “contract bargaining.”

Collective bargaining agreement (CBA)
The contract that embodies the results of the negotiations between the employer and the union, and sets forth their agreements.

Community of interest
A group of factors, such as duties, skills, working conditions, reporting lines, and other job-related issues, to be considered in determining whether a group of employees should be grouped together as an appropriate bargaining unit.

Counter-proposal
An offer made by one party in collective bargaining negotiations in response to a proposal by the other party.

Decertification
A vote by members of a collective bargaining unit to dissociate from the union that represents them. In Washington, employee decertification petitions and proceedings are handled by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC).

Dues (a.k.a. Union Dues, Membership Fee)
Union dues are the basic fees that employees pay on a monthly basis to the union in order to obtain full rights of membership. The amount of dues is set by the union and may be a flat fee and/or a percentage of pay.

Duty of fair representation
The legal obligation for a union to fairly represent all employees in the bargaining unit without regard to factors such as union membership or membership in a protected class.

Duty to bargain
The legally enforceable obligation of each party in a collective bargaining relationship to meet at reasonable times and places and negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.

Exclusive bargaining representative
An employee organization identified by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) as the sole, official representative to bargain collectively for the employees in a bargaining unit. The exclusive bargaining representative is usually referred to as the “union.”

Good faith bargaining
The legal requirement that two parties in a collective bargaining relationship meet and negotiate at reasonable times and places, with a willingness to reach an agreement on the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.

Grievance
Generally, this is a formal complaint filed by the union alleging a violation, misapplication, or misinterpretation of one or more terms of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. Collective bargaining agreements vary and may define this term differently.

Illegal (prohibited) subjects of bargaining
Topics that the parties are forbidden to bargain over. These include proposals for bargaining that would violate state or federal laws. Under RCW 41.56, state retirement plans and retirement benefits are illegal subjects of bargaining. Other bargaining laws may have different illegal subjects.

Impasse
The point in collective bargaining negotiations at which either party determines that no further progress can be made toward reaching an agreement.

Joint labor-management committee
A forum for communication between the union and management to deal with matters of general concern between the parties. Such committees typically function in an advisory capacity, and do not include any decision-making or collective bargaining authority.

Management rights
The inherent rights of an employer to make decisions regarding its business.

Mandatory subjects of bargaining
Bargaining issues that neither party may refuse to negotiate. They include wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.

Mediation
During negotiations, one or both parties may call in a mediator, who is a neutral third party. The mediator has no power to force a settlement, but works with the parties to help them arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement.

Memorandum of understanding (MOU)
A formal, signed agreement that serves as an addendum to the collective bargaining agreement. An MOU usually addresses a significant issue that emerged during the term of the agreement, and it represents the mutual understanding between the parties on that issue. An MOU can also be referred to as a memorandum of agreement (MOA), a letter of understanding (LOU), or a letter of agreement (LOA).

Nonassociation
The right of a bargaining unit employee based on bona fide religious tenets, or teachings of a church or religious body of which the employee is a member, not to join the union or support its collective bargaining activities. Instead the employee may pay an amount equal to union dues to the union, which under RCW 41.56.122(1) must be paid to an agreed-upon charitable organization.

Past practice
The history of the way parties have behaved toward one another in the past that bears upon the expectations the parties have regarding negotiations in the future. Such practices, sanctioned by use and acceptance, are not specifically included in the collective bargaining agreement. To constitute a past practice the issue must be: 1) clear to the parties; 2) consistent in its application over a period of time; and 3) condoned by the parties. Arbitrators use past practice to interpret ambiguous language in the collective bargaining agreement.

Permissive subject of bargaining
Issues that are neither mandatory nor prohibited. Parties may agree to negotiate them, but neither party may insist upon its positions on a permissive topic to the point of impasse.

Public employment relations commission (PERC)
The Washington State agency with jurisdiction over public sector labor relations and collective bargaining in Washington. PERC is headed by three citizen commissioners appointed by the Governor. PERC adopts and enforces rules relating to the determination of appropriate bargaining units, makes determinations relating to the certification and decertification of union, and adjudicates unfair labor practice cases.

Ratification
Formal approval of a newly-negotiated agreement by a vote of the employees in a bargaining unit. Eligible voters in a union ratification are determined by the union’s bylaws and constitution. In Pierce County, the ratified agreement is then subject to Council approval.

Shop steward/delegate
A bargaining unit member selected by a group of fellow members and/or appointed by union officials to carry out union representational duties in the workplace. Shop stewards are typically Pierce County employees, unlike union representatives who are paid employees of the union.

Tentative agreement (TA)
The agreement reached through bargaining prior to its ratification or final approval by the negotiators’ constituencies.

Unfair labor practice (ULP)
A violation of collective bargaining law by either party, which could include refusal to engage in collective bargaining or interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees in the exercise of their collective bargaining rights granted by statute. These illegal practices are specifically defined in RCW 41.56.

Union dues
See Dues, fees, and membership requirements.

Union representative/agent
A union staff member responsible for carrying out union representational duties in the workplace. A union representative is typically a paid employee of the union, (unlike a shop steward, who is usually a Pierce County employee who is involved with the union).