Union Jargon

Union Jargon

We use some jargon in our communications and meetings. If you’re a new member, you might want to use this list as a reference.


  • AFSCME – (AFF-smee): American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; the international that represents many public sector workers, including: three here on the UW-Madison Campus:
    – AFSCME 171 – the local that represents blue-collar workers, law enforcement, security, and technicians on the UW-Madison campus
    – AFSCME 1942 – the local that represents administrative support, clerical, blue-collar, and technical workers at the UW hospital
    – AFSCME 2412 – the local that represents clerical and administrative support workers on the UW-Madison campus
  • JoCER – (“joker”): the Joint Committee on Employment Relations: After the TAA ratifies a new contract, this committee reviews it and decides whether to recommend that the legislature approve the contract.
  • SCFL – (“scuffle”, a.k.a., and “the fed.”): the South Central Federation of Labor is an organization that brings together local unions who are affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
  • SEAC – (“see-ack”): State Employee Action Coalition; a coalition of UW-Madison campus and state capitol unions coordinating member mobilization and actions.


  • Arbitration – A method of settling grievance disputes in which a third party (the arbitrator) is given the power to make a binding decision. In the case of state workers, the arbitrator is assigned from the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission (WERC).
  • Bargaining – see “collective bargaining” and “contract campaign.”
  • Bargaining unit – The workers who are represented by the union, generally consisting of workers in a single workplace that perform similar tasks. In the TAA, the bargaining unit consists of all of the TAs and PAs employed by UW-Madison – about 2,800 people.
  • Caucus – A private meeting of each bargaining team that interrupts the main bargaining session during contract negotiations. Can be called by either party to resolve internal disagreements, plan strategy, etc. TAA members who observe bargaining sessions are invited to participate in caucuses of the TAA bargaining team.
  • Concessions (a.k.a., givebacks, takebacks) – Items in the contract that the union sacrifices during contract negotiations. A strong union membership works to maintain a strong contract, resisting concessions.
  • Contract/agreement – An agreement reached through collective bargaining between workers and management. A contract has a set duration (ours is 2 years) and covers a variety of issues relating to conditions of employment.
  • Contract campaign – The process of negotiating a new contract. First, members determine our bargaining priorities. Then the strategy for winning a good contract is twofold: we organize membership involvement to show the university and state that we want a good contract, and our bargaining team meets with the university/state bargaining team to negotiate good contract language. Both an active membership base and bargaining “at the table” must happen if we want to win a good contract.
  • Contract extension – All contracts have expiration dates (ours was June 30, 2007). If a new contract is not settled by the expiration date, the union and the employer can agree to extend the current contract for either a limited or undefined period of time. This continues the protection of the contract while negotiations continue. Since state unions, including the TAA, can’t negotiate pay until the budget passes in legislature (which usually happens in the fall), we frequently have extended our contract beyond the expiration date.
  • Domestic partner benefits – (“D.P. benefits”): The extension of health insurance benefits to the significant other of an employee, regardless of whether the couple is legally married. Applies to same-sex and opposite-sex couples who either cannot or choose not to marry. The TAA has been working for D.P. benefits for years, so that the families of all TAs and PAs may receive health care.
  • Dues – Dues are 1.5% of your gross salary and are automatically deducted from your paycheck.
  • Fair share fees/Maintenance Of Membership fees – Wisconsin law requires that the TAA contract cover all TAs and PAs and that the TAA represent and provide full services to all employees, not just to TAA members. It’s only fair that all PAs and TAs pay their share of the cost of bargaining the contract. This happens through “MOM” fees, which are also 1.5% of gross salaries, and are also automatically deducted.
  • Good-faith bargaining – The legal requirement that the two parties in negotiation meet and confer at reasonable times with a sincere willingness to reach an agreement on new contract terms. Good faith bargaining does not require that either party make a concession or agree to any proposal.Grandfathering – The process by which some workers continue to be covered by older contract language, while new contract changes are applied only to new workers. The workers who are exempted from specific changes in the contract are “grandfathered in.” For example, a new wage structure may apply only to new workers, while current workers continue to be paid as they had been under the previous contract. For example, in the 1999 contract campaign, the university proposed a change in pay structure that would have cut the pay of some TAs. The university proposed to “grandfather in” these TAs, so that only future TAs would be affected by the pay cuts. (We didn’t accept the changes, by the way.)
  • Grievance – A grievance is the formal procedure, as defined in the contract, for resovling workplace differences.
  • Impasse – A point in bargaining where there is no prospect of change in position by either party, i.e., a deadlock. There is no provision in Wisconsin public employment law for “impasse” (e.g. the state cannot declare an impasse and unilaterally impose a contract).
  • International – The parent organization of a particular union. They lobby Congress for changes in laws that would benefit workers, send help to any locals that need it, coordinate national organizing efforts, etc. The American Federation of Teachers is the “international” for the TAA.
  • Language – During contract negotiations, the bargaining team uses “language” to refer to the specific wording that will be proposed for the new contract. We also use this colloquially to refer to additions to the contract, as in “We got great language about TA training in our contract!”
  • Lift – The percentage by which our pay rate has increased over the course of our two-year contract. For example, if the average member’s pay was $1000 at the beginning of the contract and was $1100 at the end of the contract, that would be a “lift” of 10%.
  • Local – A branch of a union representing workers in a specific region, or workplace. Locals are differentiated with numbers; the TAA is AFT Local #3220.
  • Lump sum – Money that is paid to workers outside of regular wages, as determined by contract negotiations. Lump sum money does not add to the base pay, so it does not increase the “lift.”
  • Mediation – A method of settling bargaining in which a neutral third party (the mediator) facilitates a decision. Ideally, the mediator improves communication and identifies areas of agreement that the parties were previously unable to see. The mediator may also pressure one side to give in. The TAA resolved the 2003-2005 and 2005-2007 contracts through mediation.
  • Negotiations – see Contract Campaign.
  • Negotiating Note – These either a) provide information about the history and intent of part of the contract, or b) contain substantive language that holds the same weight as the rest of the contract. For example, our childcare funding is stipulated in a negotiating note.
  • NLRB – The National Labor Relations Board is a government agency that administers union elections and arbitrates disputes between labor and management. Its judges are appointed by the Administration and tend therefore to be more or less helpful to workers depending on the politics of the administration that appointed them. In particular, Reagan and Bush made some anti-union appointments to the NLRB, which contribute to the difficulty for unions of achieving justice through the NLRB.
  • No-strike clause – Contract language forbidding the union from striking. If the contract expires, the union is legally free to strike, except where illegal (as is true for state workers in Wisconsin). The TAA has a no-strike clause in Article XII of the contract. We must never do this again.
  • Organizing – People working together to achieve a goal. Within the TAA, we use organizing to refer to many things, including: signing up new members to the union; gathering information about the interests and concerns of members; talking with members to turn out to a membership or department meeting, bargaining session, volunteer night, or rally; planning and holding a rally or event; distributing information through flyers or leaflets; and working with other unions to gain stronger contracts. The only way we gain and maintain good contracts is through organizing!
  • Pay equity – This refers to the need for comparable jobs to receive comparable pay. The TAA has been working for PA/TA pay equity, as the University continues to pay PAs less per month than TAs.
  • Picket line – A line of workers carrying picket signs and distributing information, usually in front of the employer’s business. Not all pickets indicate a strike. An informational picket serves to inform the public of a labor dispute, and may not ask others to boycott the business. In the case of a strike, the picket line provides information and asks for a boycott of the business being struck. Pickets are legal as long as they are orderly and off private property.
  • Rank & file – The working membership of a union — in contrast to union leadership or staff.
  • Ratification – The election in which the membership formally approves a contract by paper ballot.
  • Real wages – The amount that pay increases as compared to inflation. This measures how much of the wage increase offsets inflation and how much is real progress. For example, during the last contract campaign, the TAA was initially offered a pay raise that was less than the cost of living increase. This represented a decrease in real wages, so we worked to win a contract with a pay increase that would offset inflation and provide the majority of members with an increase in real wages.
  • Recognition – The employer’s acknowledgment of a union as the exclusive bargaining agent for the employees, given either voluntarily upon evidence of an employee petition, or by legal requirement after an election conducted by the government.
  • Retroactive pay – Wages paid to workers either for time worked under contract extension, and therefore without a new raise; or for time during which a worker was paid at an incorrect (lower) rate. The latter occurs following a successful grievance. Retroactive pay is sometimes called “back pay.”
  • Right-to-work state – This is a deceptively wholesome title to a union-busting law that makes it illegal for a union to have an election to instate Fair Share Fees. This means that only union members provide financial support to the union that works for better wages and working conditions for all of the workers who are represented by the union. Wisconsin is not a right-to-work state.
  • Steward – In a member-run union, stewards play a crucial role. Stewards represent their departmental interests in the TAA Stewards’ Council, to ensure that the larger TAA body stays in touch with on-the-ground issues. As a group, stewards also recruit new union members, communicate with members about union issues, build solidarity in the department among union members, and help resolve workplace problems and/or grievances.
  • Strikebreaker/scab – Someone who crosses a picket line or works in place of a striking worker.
  • Strike – The collective cessation of work by employees, sometimes used in labor-management disagreements. A strike must be authorized by the union membership, and often (though not in the TAA’s case) by the International, as well. Workers in many occupations (federal employees and many public sector workers, including UW-Madison TAs and PAs) cannot legally strike. In addition, most contracts have “no-strike” clauses, making strikes illegal for the duration of the contract.
  • Unfair labor practice – Actions of unions and employers that violate a federal or state labor law.

Robert’s Rules of Order

We use Robert’s Rules of Order to facilitate our membership meetings.

These are some of the most common reasons for someone to speak during a discussion of a motion.

  1. Speaking in favor (state at beginning of speaking that one is speaking in favor and offer a brief explanation as to why)
  2. Speaking against (same as above, just the opposite)
  3. Point of information (individual asks for more information about the motion)
  4. Point of Clarification (typically the chair or the motion maker either responding to a point of information request or putting one out there to clear things up)
  5. Call the Question (A motion to end debate, needs a second, after seconded immediately vote on ending debate, requires 2/3 passage. If passes proceed immediately to vote on motion or amendment under consideration).
  6. Move to amend (a motion to amend the motion under consideration). If deemed ‘friendly’ by original motion maker and the seconder, it does not require a second and becomes part of the original motion (no further action needed). If ‘unfriendly’ it needs a second, followed by a discussion and then a vote on the amendment, following that vote, return to discussion of original motion (amended or un-amended depending upon outcome).
  7. Move to table (put the matter in question aside until the next meeting)

If there is no more discussion, a vote is called (Yes, no, abstain). Simple majority required except as noted above.