AGENCY FEES, FAIR-SHARE FEES, AND UNION DUES. By law, a union with exclusive rights of representation must represent the interests of all employees in a bargaining unit, whether they are union members or not. In recognition of this arrangement, it was historically recognized that union employees would pay union dues, and nonunion employees would pay a fee equal to the union dues.

  • In Abood, SCOTUS decided that public sector workers cannot be required to pay for a union’s political activities, but they must contribute something (agency or fair-share fees) toward a union’s cost of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance representation.
  • In Friedrichs, a case pending in 2016, SCOTUS will decide whether mandatory fair-share fees deny a public sector employee’s free speech rights and are therefore unconstitutional.

AGENCY SHOPS. In certain states, at workplaces with a collective bargaining agreement, union members pay dues, while non-members are required to pay agency or fair-share fees, as described above.  These workplaces are known as “agency shops.” In “right-to-work” states, unions are not permitted collect to agency fees from non-members, even though non-members enjoy the benefits of the labor agreement.That makes non-membership an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of unionization without paying for them.

ALICE. Is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. The term refers to a hidden population of working households earning more than the federal poverty level, but not enough to afford basic necessities. The term was first developed by the United Way in a 2009 study of working poverty in affluent Morris County, NJ. The ALICE language and methodology has since been used by United Way agencies in five other states, but not Ohio.

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS. Anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers (that have at least 15 employees on their payroll) from illegally terminating employees because of their race, national origin, gender, religion, military status, or other characteristics that place them in a legally “protected class.”

ANTI-RETALIATION LAWS. Employer retaliation can take many different forms including, for example, termination, suspension, demotion, harassment, reduced work hours, pay cuts, and undesirable schedule and duty assignments. Several laws protect employees against retaliation.

  • Under anti-discrimination laws, employers may not retaliate against employees who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding.
  • Under the NLRA, employers may not retaliate against employees for engaging in concerted activities to improve the terms and conditions of their employment, even without a union.
  • Under the FLSA, employers (and former employers) may not retaliate against an employee for filing a complaint or cooperating an investigation against the employer. See more HERE.
  • Other laws protect whistleblowers.

AT-WILL EMPLOYMENT. Employers can terminate “at-will” employees without just cause, without prior warning, and without fair procedures. Ohio, like most states, considers employees to be “at-will” unless they have an employment contract (explicit or implied) that protects them against being terminated without just cause.

BARGAINING UNIT. A bargaining unit is the group of workers that votes whether or not to have a union, and, if the vote is yes, then it is the group of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement and represented by the union going forward. The NLRB’s basic test for bargaining unit appropriateness is whether the workers “share a community of interests.” A MICRO UNION refers to a traditional union in a relatively small bargaining unit. For example, in September 2015, pharmacy workers at one of Target’s stores in Brooklyn voted to form a union, which does not include other store employees.

CLOSED SHOPS. Workplaces where union membership is a condition of employment are known as “closed shops.” Closed shops are illegal in the US.

CONCERTED ACTIVITIES. The NLRA defines concerted activity in Section 7. “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection….”

CONTINGENT WORKERS. Workers considered contingent include agency temps, on-call workers, independent contractors, self-employed workers, and standard part-time employees. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the number of contingent workers rose from 35.3 percent in 2006 to 40.4 percent in 2010, a shift probably related to the 2007-2009 recession. Employers may hire contingent workers for a variety of reasons. They may want to adapt to workload fluctuations, meet employees’ requests for part-time hours, temporarily screen workers for permanent positions, or save on wage and benefit costs. These types of workers often do not receive employer-provided retirement and health benefits, and might not have job-protected leave.

FAIR LABOR STANDARDS ACT (FLSA). Congress enacted the FLSA in 1938 under its Constitutional grant of authority to regulate interstate commerce.  FLSA is a comprehensive federal scheme that provides for minimum wages, overtime pay, record keeping requirements, and child labor regulations. FLSA’s requirements only apply to “employees.” Congress created the Wage and Hour Division in the Labor Department to allow the Wage and Hour Administrator and the Secretary to investigate FLSA violations.

GREAT GATSBY CURVE. The Great Gatsby Curve illustrates the connection between concentration of wealth in one generation and the ability of those in the next generation to move up the economic ladder compared to their parents. The curve shows that children from poor families are less likely to improve their economic status as adults in countries where income inequality was higher around the time those children were growing up. The US has had a sharp rise in inequality since the 1980s. On the eve of the Great Recession, income inequality in the U.S. was as sharp as it had been at any period since the time of “The Great Gatsby.” Alan Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, introduced the idea of the Great Gatsby Curve in January 2012 in a speech at the Center for American Progress.

INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS. The  IRS says you can classify an individual as an independent contractor rather than an employee if you have “the right to control or direct only the result of the work” but the worker controls “what will be done and how it will be done.”


LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED (LTU). The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a workers as “long-term unemployed” if he or she has been jobless for 27 weeks or more.

NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT (NLRA). Congress enacted the NLRA in 1935.

  • The NLRA protects the right of employees to engage in protected concerted activities. It protects the right of employees to choose or reject union representation, but it also both protects and limits union efforts to represent an employer’s workers. For example, unions may campaign vigorously to win employees’ support, but they may not force neutral employers to cease doing business with an employer the union seeks to organize.
  • The NLRA also protects employers from union labor practices deemed unfair such as secondary boycotts.
  • The NLRA places certain restrictions on employers and labor organizations in their relations with employees and each other. For example, employers may not interfere with employees in the exercise of their rights or resort to discrimination to discourage them from unionizing. 

PAYROLL FRAUD. Payroll fraud occurs when employers intentionally lie to public agencies about how many employees it has and denies workers the wages, contributions to taxes, and insurances and protections due employees. Employers either 1) fraudulently call workers independent contractors instead of employees and/or 2) pay workers completely in cash and “off the books.”


RIGHT TO WORK (RTW). In states without right to work laws, public employees don’t have to join a union, but they must pay fair-share fees for the cost of benefits from union bargaining and representation, which covers all employees. Right to work laws make fair-share fees voluntary for public employees who do not belong to the union. Unions argue that right to work laws create a free-rider effect, allowing nonunion employees to enjoy the benefits of union bargaining without sharing in the cost.

SCOTUS. Supreme Court of the United States.

WAGE THEFT. Wage Theft occurs when an employer does not pay workers their legally or contractually promised wages. Examples include:

  •      Not paying workers for all the hours they work.
  •      Giving checks that bounce.
  •      Not paying overtime.
  •      Misclassifying “exempt” and “non-exempt” workers.
  •      Paying by the day or the job.
  •      Making workers pay for a job.
  •      Not paying the “prevailing wage.”
  •      Automatically deducting for breaks that workers don’t get.
  •      Stealing workers’ tips.
  •      Supervisor kickbacks.
  •      Not paying people at all.
  •      Not paying last paychecks.
  •      Failing to give 60 days’ layoff notice or pay.
  •      Paycheck kickbacks.
  •      Denying workers’ compensation.
  •      Payroll Fraud.

*Definitions are based on Kim Bobo’s book, “Wage Theft: Why Millions of Americans Are Not Getting Paid—And What We Can Do About It.”