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The Lexicon of Labor: More Than 500 Key Terms, Biographical Sketches, and Historical Insights Concerning Labor in America

The Lexicon of Labor: More Than 500 Key Terms, Biographical Sketches, and Historical Insights Concerning Labor in America

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A thoroughly updated edition of the clever, fun-to-read compilation of union language and lore. “Worth reading aloud while walking the picket line.” —The Seattle Times
First published in 1998, The Lexicon of Labor found a large and appreciative following among readers who were grateful to have the vibrant, powerful language of the labor movement captured in a lively single volume. This long-awaited revised and updated edition includes dozens of new terms and developments that will introduce a new generation to the labor lexicon.
From Frederick Douglass to César Chávez, from the Haymarket Riots in 1886 to the Change to Win federation formed in 2005, this classic labor lexicon provides concise, enlightening sketches of over five hundred key places, people, and events in American labor history. A practical resource for students and journalists, The Lexicon of Labor is as entertaining for longtime union members seeking to get reacquainted with the traditions of the movement as it is for newcomers wishing to discover the unique language and history of unionism.
The Lexicon of Labor also includes explanations of major legislative acts, definitions of key legal terminology, and complete listings of all the member unions of the AFL-CIO and independent unions in the United States. It is the perfect introduction to the history of labor in America.
“A handy reference for individuals who want an introduction to U.S. labor terminology and labor history.” —Library Journal
“Fills a longstanding void . . . by far the largest compilation of definitions of words and phrases used in the specialized vocabulary of unionists.” —Northwest Labor Press

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595585998
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 05/25/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 244
Sales rank: 179,114
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

R. Emmett Murray (1939–2008), a longtime newspaperman, was past president of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, Local 82.

Elaine Bernard is the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at the Harvard School of Law. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt



across-the-board increases — A negotiated raise in which all members of a bargaining unit, regardless of classification, receive the same wage increase (e.g., 50 cents an hour, $20 a week). See contractual raise.

Adamson Act — Law enacted by Congress in September 1916 establishing the eight-hour day for railway workers. It marked the first time a group of private workers had its working hours regulated by the federal government. See eight-hour day and Fair Labor Standards Act.

affiliated — With individual members, those of the bargaining unit who belong to the union, as opposed to excluded or exempt employees. With unions, those that belong to the AFL-CIO or a regional centralized body such as a state or county labor council.

affirmative action — In its labor context, a policy of state or federal government to effect "set-asides" in which construction contracts financed with public money must allow for a certain percentage of bids by minority and women subcontractors. In recent years, support for this concept in Congress and individual state legislatures has eroded and is in danger of being eliminated altogether. See Philadelphia Plan.

AFL-CIO — American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations, a voluntary federation of labor unions — not a union itself, despite continual references as such in the media — currently composed of 56 unions representing 12 million members in the United States and Canada. Created in 1886 by cigarmaker Samuel Gompers and others as an alliance of trade or craft unions, the AFL was an outgrowth of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada, founded in 1881. With its 1906 enunciation of "Labor's List of Grievances," in which it laid down the challenge to the major political parties and championing of the slogan, "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work," the AFL became the most important force in the American labor movement. Eerily prescient of the 1980s and 1990s, the new federation at the turn of the century made concentration of wealth a central theme and advocated "compulsory (public) education law. ... prohibition of labor of children under 14 year. ... sanitation and safety provisions for factorie. ... repeal of all conspiracy law. ... a National Bureau of Labor Statistic. ... [and] protection of American industry against cheap foreign labor." Unfortunately, while the AFL leadership preached — and might have believed in — an end to racial segregation, the federation remained highly exclusionary at the local craft union level.

The AFL's power waned with the onset of mass-production technology, and the CIO (originally the Committee for Industrial Organization) was founded in mid-Depression 1935 by mineworker chief John L. Lewis, Philip Murray, and others in response to the AFL's failure — or refusal — to organize unskilled workers on the assembly line. The CIO would organize "vertically"; that is, include all workers in a given industry, as opposed to merely the journeyman-apprentice level of a particular skilled craft. Originally formed within the AFL, the CIO, with its ten member unions, was expelled from the parent body in 1937 because, while all too successful, it was considered too militant and confrontational. The CIO was formally established as an independent federation in 1938 and remained so until both groups merged in 1955 under the presidency of George Meany.

With a combination of a strong postwar economy and forceful leadership, Meany presided over the heyday of the AFL-CIO, when union membership reached a high-water mark of 37 percent of the U.S. workforce. Meany's 1979 successor, Lane Kirkland, however, unwittingly became the symbol of decline in the American labor movement. Handicapped by his own less-thanfiery leadership, Kirkland also had to contend, unsuccessfully for the most part, with a falloff in organizing, increasing corporate multinationalism and outsourcing, official and open Reagan-era hostility toward unions and, as a by-product of the latter, the expansion of a union-busting industry: management consultants. By the time Kirkland was virtually forced into retirement, in August 1995, union membership had dropped to around 14 percent. Kirkland's successor, John Sweeney, has tried to turn the tide with new bodies in the top ranks of the federation, aggressive organizing drives, a massive funneling of money to pro-union political causes and advertising, recruitment of youth into the labor movement, and a high-profile public-relations effort to get unions' side of the story into the media during disputes. At first, Sweeney's presidency seemed to result in a slight rise in union membership. But that was illusory. It had dropped to 12 percent of the overall workforce and 8 percent in the private sector shortly after the turn of the 21st century — a major reason behind the formation of the breakaway Change to Win federation in 2005. See Knights of Labor, sit-down strike, no-raiding agreements, Code of Ethical Practices. Also, Appendix I for the list of AFL-CIO unions.

African Americans — See blacks in the labor movement.

agency fee payer/agency shop — Formerly a contract provision, now a federal requirement, allowing individuals within a bargaining unit to opt out of joining the union provided they pay a regular "fee" — roughly equivalent to prevailing union dues — for the benefits of union representation. Agency fee payers are found throughout unions; agency shops are usually found in public-employee jurisdictions. The agency shop was a compromise between the union's desire to eliminate the free rider by means of compulsory membership and management's desire to make membership voluntary. Agency fee payers are notexempt or excluded employees.

Air Transport Act — Law enacted by Congress in early 1936 that extended provisions of the Walsh-Healy Act to cover employees of airlines receiving government subsidies; that is, it directed the secretary of labor to determine minimum-wage rates and forbade the employment of minors at such airlines.

Alliance for Labor Action — A late 1960s tie-up between the Teamsters and United Auto Workers, both of whom the AFL-CIO accorded "outcast union" status at the time. A brainchild of the UAW's Walter Reuther, with the willing cooperation of the Teamsters' Frank Fitzsimmons, the ALA sought to revitalize the American labor movement by combining the "vision" of the progressive UAW with the organizing drive of Jimmy Hoffa's old union. Incurring the immediate hostility — some said envy — of the AFLCIO's George Meany, the ALA met with only modest success and fell apart after Reuther's 1970 death in a plane crash.

Alliance for Retired Americans — Advocacy organization created and funded by executive action of the AFLCIO in May 2000. Its membership of roughly 5 million is composed mainly of retired union workers and their spouses, although other labor-force retirees "who share [the federation's] values and agenda" can join.

Allis-Chalmers strike (1941) — Begun in January by United Auto Workers CIO Local 248 as a protest against the Wisconsin-based tractor manufacturer's systematic moves to weaken and/or break the union. The 75-day strike was notable principally for the supposedly labor-sympathetic Roosevelt administration's role in breaking it via back-to-work edicts from the U.S. Department of Labor. Another first was an armored car, manned by police, firing tear gas and smashing through a picket line of 3,000 workers, injuring and sickening an untold number. The company eventually agreed to accept terms the union would have settled for at the beginning. See North American Aviation strike.

Altgeld, John Peter (1847–1902) — Germanborn lawyer, judge, and chief justice of Illinois. As Democratic governor of Illinois (1893–97), he gained fame — and notoriety — by pardoning three Haymarket affair anarchists. A staunch friend of labor, he advocated child labor laws and opposed use of federal troops to crush the 1894 Pullman Strike. Memorable quote (in pardoning the Haymarket prisoners): "It is an axiom of the law that mere talk, no matter how abusive, does not constitute a crime."

ambushing — A longshoremen's union term for zeroing in on a particular problem — a safety hazard, for example — on the docks and pursuing it strategically so it can be grieved as a "good beef" or constitute grounds for a legal work stoppage. Reasons for an ambush are often found while "patrolling," another longshore business-agent term, meaning a routine check of work conditions. International Longshore and Warehouse Union officials maintain patrolling and ambushes are "the first moves the union makes to use the contract self-interestedly but without subverting i. ... ambushes keep management honest. The threat of work stoppages is incentive for most employers to keep contractual promises, at least minimally." (Quoted from David Wellman's The Union Makes Us Strong.)

American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) — Controversial foreign-policy arm of the AFLCIO in Latin America, created as an adjunct of the Alliance for Progress in 1962. AIFLD's supporters say it has been a needed catalyst for the development of trade unionism, fair wages, and the raising of living standards in impoverished countries. Opponents claim it has been nothing but a tool of U.S. big business (early directors were Nelson Rockefeller and J. Peter Grace), Latin American strongmen and military dictatorships; moreover, that it has, in close cooperation with the CIA and State Department, helped crush Latin American labor movements that were not aligned with U.S. Cold War policies in the region. AIFLD — not coincidentally, critics say — is more or less dormant now that the Cold War has ended. Sister agencies of the AFL-CIO abroad are the African American Labor Center, founded in 1964, and the Asian American Free Labor Institute, founded in 1968.

American Labor Party — A phoenix-like faction that first arose in New York City in 1919 but was subsumed that same year when delegates met in Chicago and created the National Labor Party, opening it to all workers, farmers, and Socialists. The latter, however, saw the party as "dualistic" and urged their members to vote a straight Socialist ticket. Samuel Gompers of the AFL, himself a former Socialist, was against it, too, for different reasons, and threatened locals with a loss of their charter if they so chose to mix union business with politics. As a result, the NLP died of natural causes in the mid- to late 1920s. But in 1936 — again in New York City — a new American Labor Party was born and this time was influential enough to swing an estimated 250,000 votes President Franklin D. Roosevelt's way, contributing to FDR's landslide that year. At that point, the party was an esoteric mix, composed of such conservative unionists as Joseph Ryan, head of the AFL International Longshoremen's Association, and George Meany, then chief of the New York Federation of Labor and later president of the mainstream AFL-CIO, and the right wing of the Socialist Party. At the time, a biographer of labor leader David Dubinsky was to note, Stalinists had gained considerable power in this regenerated labor party and "one of the reasons the right-wingers continued to stay in the ALP was that the New Deal wanted them there." In 1940, the ALP threw its weight behind the reelection of New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, a Republican, albeit an extremely progressive one. The party died out in the World War II years, but a reincarnation has been germinating since the 1980s under the rubric of the Labor Party Advocates and has shown signs of becoming at least a minor contender in future elections.

American Labor Union — A federation of brief duration founded in 1901. Previously the Western Labor Federation, it was composed mainly of Western Federation of Miners (about 4,000) and 400 members of other trades. Chief affiliates were a small group of Colorado railway workers, some Colorado coal miners' locals, and western hotel and restaurant workers.

American plan — Slogan of antilabor employers during the 1920s Red scare, equating a nonunion workplace with patriotism and a union shop with disloyalty. Its natural by-product was the open shop. See blacklist and Rockefeller Plan.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — Enacted by Congress in July 1992 and affecting all workplaces with more than 25 employees, the Act prohibits discrimination against qualified employees and applicants with disabilities and requires employers to make "reasonable accommodations" where a disabled employee could perform the "essential functions" of his or her job with such assistance, unless this adjustment would pose "undue hardship" on the employer — to be determined case by case. The Act includes, but does not limit, the definition of disability as: someone who is crippled, partially paralyzed, an amputee, a stroke victim, and anyone who uses crutches, braces, or a wheelchair to get around; anybody suffering from repetitive strain injury or carpal-tunnel syndrome, epilepsy, alcoholism, past and/or recovering (but not current) drug use/abuse, hearing or sight loss, AIDS, high blood pressure, back injuries, or dyslexia.

annual improvement factor — See productivity.

Anthony, Susan B. (1820–1906) — Known mostly for her tireless activity in the abolition and women's suffrage movements, Anthony also fought hard for women's rights in labor unions and was a briefly a delegate of the National Labor Union.

apprentice/apprenticeship training — Someone learning a trade from experienced workers with both classroom and on-the-job training. The length of training varies from two to six years, the successful completion of which allows admission to journeyman or journey-level work and correspondingly higher pay. A term from 1362 that originated with medieval craft guilds in the 14th century, apprentice used to mean someone who was legally bound through indenture to a master craftsman in order to learn a trade. A dirty little secret is that this was generally the case throughout Colonial America, down through the first half of the 19th century. In an age before orphanages, working-class orphaned boys who were not taken in by a relative or guardian would wind up as indentured apprentices — a polite term for legalized white slavery — until they reached 21. This was also a common method by which poor young immigrants paid their passage and gained a foothold in the New World. That said, apprenticeship for centuries the world over has been the much sought-after main level of entry to professionalism for millions of young men — and, in recent times, young women — whereby they learned a valuable skill or trade and secured a niche in an ever-growing middle class.

arbitration — The means by which labor and management settle an unresolved grievance by submitting it to a third, outside party (e.g., the American Arbitration Association). The arbitrator, selected from a list of recognized labor law experts and academicians, must be mutually agreed upon by the contending parties. The procedure involves hearings, affidavits, depositions, and oral testimony from both sides, after which the arbitrator prepares a written finding — called an award — often months later. This finding, in most contracts, is final and binding, meaning it establishes a precedent for similar contractual disputes in the future. See binding arbitration, mediation, factfinding, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

assembly line — A key component of the second Industrial Revolution, putting into practice the theories of motion-studies guru Frederick Taylor. Until about 1915, factory production was largely a matter of piecework; after this time machines, tools, and workers were arranged in a particular sequence to assemble products as they moved along a direct line or route. Antiunion automaker Henry Ford was a pioneer in the technique, which enabled his plants to turn out a new car every 93 minutes. Ironically, the drive to unionization began around 1937 in the auto industry, providing impetus to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) because the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had shunned the unskilled workers of the nation's assembly lines. See Taylorism and AFL-CIO.


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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Revised Edition,
Prefatory Note,
The Lexicon of Labor,
Appendix I Affiliate Unions of the AFL-CIO and Independent Unions,
Appendix II Free Rider's Card,
Appendix III A Select Labor Bibliography,
About the Author,

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