Union Dictionary

Joining any union, whether you’re new to unions or not, can be overwhelming. Check out this page for definitions of common terms and words used in our union.


Abeyance -To defer hearing a grievance for a specific period of time until a legal decision has been made on the same issue.

Arbitrary -Not showing consistency. Dealing with one matter one way then dealing with the same circumstance totally different next time.

Arbitration -The method of settling employment disputes through recourse to an impartial party from the Labour Board, whose decision is final and binding.

Arbitrator –The impartial third party appointed through the Labour Board that the parties submit their grievances to for a decision (award). This person is usually selected by mutual consent.

Bargaining Agent -The union that is named as the exclusive representative for all the people covered, or who will be covered by the agreement.

Bargaining Committee or Bargaining Team –Both the Local and the Employer have Bargaining Committees. The Employer appoints theirs, while the union’s team is elected by and within the executive. The union’s elected committee will be at the bargaining table and actively involved in negotiating a contract.

Bargaining Survey –A questionnaire sent out by the Local to all members of the bargaining unit to assist in the drafting of bargaining proposals. It is not an unbiased “scientific” survey, but rather aims to both inform and garner information from members.

Bargaining Unit –All of those employees represented by the bargaining agent whether they are members of the union or not.

Bargaining Unit Member -All bargaining unit members are members of the union.

Caucus –An informal meeting of the bargaining team, away from the bargaining table, to discuss, clarify, or solidify positions on issues.

Check – off -Payroll deduction of dues – the practice whereby the employer deducts union dues from employee pay cheques and remits these funds to the union.

Collective Agreement, Agreement, Contract –A legally-binding written contract, arrived at through the process of negotiation, which covers the employee’s wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. A written agreement between the union and the Employer is for a definite term, defining conditions of employment (wages, hours, benefits, working conditions, etc.) rights of employees and the processes for resolving disputes or handling issues that arise during the term of the agreement.

Collective Bargaining –A process where the union and Employer, make offers and counter-offers back and forth regarding their employment relationship, for the purpose of making a mutually acceptable agreement, and the execution of a written document.

Concessions –This is an attempt by the Employer to reduce or eliminate benefits and/or other conditions of employment which heretofore have existed.

Conciliation –A stage in negotiations that involves a neutral third party from the Ministry of Labour who attempts to assist the parties in resolving their dispute by suggesting possible areas of compromise, bringing a different point of view, clarifying issues and using many other techniques designed to bring the parties closer together and narrow the disagreement. The function of mediation is to assist the parties by being creative and innovative in finding areas of agreement and compromise to reach final resolution of an impasse.

Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) –Raising or lowering salaries in accordance with cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Defined Benefit Pension (DB) – A type of pension plan in which an employer/sponsor promises a specified pension payment, lump-sum or combination thereof on retirement that is predetermined by a formula based on the employee’s earnings history, tenure of service and age, rather than depending directly on individual investment returns.

Duty of Fair Representation –Unions have an obligation in handling grievances in a manner that is not arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.

Employer –A person or organization that employs people. University of Saskatchewan.

Estoppel -A long running practice that is acknowledged by both parties that one party is now trying to change to the determent of the other party.

Exclusive Negotiation Rights -The right and obligation of the union to negotiate collectively for all employees, including non-members, in the Unit.

Final Offer –Under the Saskatchewan Employment Act, the Employer can force a vote of the collective agreement to the membership on their “final offer,” however the Employer can only do so once.

General Membership Meeting (GMM) -A democratic forum for union members and is the highest decision-making body of the Local.

Grievance -There are four kinds of grievances that can be filed, individual, group, policy and union grievances. The most common kind of grievance is an individual grievance.

  • Individual Grievances – Individual grievances relate to the interpretation or application of a collective agreement or arbitral award or any matter affecting the terms and conditions of a specific individual’s employment, such as disciplinary action, demotion, termination, suspension or financial penalty.
  • Group Grievance – A group grievance may be presented when two or more employees in a single department or agency are similarly affected by the interpretation or application of a collective agreement or arbitral award. Employees are able to opt into a group grievance referred by their bargaining agent. Employees may decide later that they no longer wish to participate in the group grievance and opt out.
  • Policy Grievance – A policy grievance relates to the interpretation or application of a collective agreement or an arbitral award. Either the bargaining agent or the employer can refer a policy grievance.
  • Union Grievance – This grievance involves the issue where the union’s rights have been violated. The grievance would be from the union itself.

Grievance Procedure –Typically a formal meeting, specified in the collective agreement, which provides for step meetings that allows for discussions at progressive higher levels of authority of the Employer, usually culminating in arbitration if necessary.

Hearsay Evidence -Evidence supply by a 3rd party that was not present for the initial conversation or act.

Impasse –A point reached in the process of bargaining by both parties agree that they can go no further in the process of proposal or counter- proposal. The parties best offers are offers are “on the table,” none of which are acceptable to the other party, bringing them to a point of impasse.

Interest Arbitration –A process whereby the parties submit unresolved contract to an impartial third party who will render a final and binding decision on the terms and conditions of a collective agreement.

Just Cause (or cause of discipline) –The Employer is responsible to establish or carry the burned of proof when disciplining an employee.

Local –The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), also referred to as the National, is split up by workplace into Locals. Locals are democratic units of workers within a given workplace that share the same Employer.

Lockout –When management locks workers out of their workplace and refuses to allow workers to work as a punitive measure for refusing to accept a bad offer in bargaining.

Last Chance Agreement -Put in place by the employer and agreed to by the union outline and giving the member one last opportunity to improve performance or actions.

Mediation –Involvement in a contract negotiations dispute of a neutral third party (often the same person that acted as the conciliator) from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, who attempts to assist the parties in resolving their dispute by suggesting possible areas of compromise, bringing a different point of view, clarifying issues and using many other techniques designed to bring the parties closer together and narrow the disagreement.  The function of mediation is to assist the parties by being creative and innovative in finding areas of agreement and compromise to reach final resolution of an impasse. This is the stage in the bargaining process immediately preceding a strike/lockout deadline set out by the No-Board Report.

Negotiations –The process by which the bargaining team bargain to set wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment, and the processes for handling grievances.

Negotiation Rights (Bargaining Rights) –Legally recognized right to represent employees in negotiations with employers.

Past Practice –A long established practice of a recurring situation over a substantial period of time which has been recognized by both parties.

Ratification -The voting process for or against the new contract. The voting process by bargaining unit members constitutes the ratification of the collective agreement. A new contract can only be signed and become effective following the ratification of both parties.

Ratification Vote –When the committee feels it has reached an agreement with management that they feel that they can bring it back to the membership, a Special General Membership Meeting (SGMM) is called to discuss and initiate the ratification vote that takes place over two days. If the ratification vote is affirmative the new collective agreement comes into effect. If the members turn down the agreement the bargaining committee goes back to the table. Under the Saskatchewan Employment Act, the Employer can force a vote to the membership on their “final offer,” however the Employer can only do so once.

Recognition –Employer acceptance of the union as authorized to negotiate for a specific group of employees.

Red-Circling -Freezing a members pay at its current level when they change job classifications until the new job classification rate catches up to their current one.

Saskatchewan Employment Act –The provincial legislation that governs the process of bargaining, as well as other rules governing unions and the administration of collective agreements.

Side Bar –Short for side-bargaining. These are “off-the record” informal discussions between representatives of the parties to seek a non-binding position on issues – away from the bargaining table. The process is exploratory and does not change table positions on bargaining issues. The sidebars are usually conducted between chief negotiators/spokespersons.

Solidarity –The fundamental principle of trade-unionism best exemplified by the slogan” an injury to one is an injury to all.” In practice this means that all members of the union-movement agree to help one another in their struggles for fair wages, safe workplaces, better benefits and human rights. Solidarity extends beyond the union-movement to other groups struggling for human rights and social justice.

Special General Membership Meeting (SGMM) –A general membership meeting that is called for a specific purpose, and only for that purpose. Typically for a presentation and debate preceding a ratification vote.

Strike Pay –Financial assistance provided to striking or locked-out workers through our union.

Strike –A collective action taken by all workers in a bargaining unit to put pressure on the Employer to take their concerns seriously by withdrawing all or some of their labour.

Strike Mandate Vote –A crucial tool for successful bargaining, an affirmative vote puts the right to call a strike (or other job action) in the hands of the elected bargaining committee. An affirmative strike mandate vote sends a clear message to the Employer that the members stand behind the bargaining committee and the proposals that the union put forward.  This is not a vote for a strike and it does not necessarily mean that there will be a strike.

Tentative Agreement –The point in the collective bargaining process where all issues have been resolved between the parties and the tentative agreement is waiting to be ratified by the parties. A tentative agreement can also refer to individual bargaining proposals to which there have been mutual agreement. The parties often have these tentative agreement signed off on. The process of individually agreeing to bargaining issues is acknowledged by both parties that the issue(s) which has been tentatively agreed is “taken off the table” and will not return later in the bargaining process.

Term -the negotiated length of the collective agreement that the agreement will remain enforced.

Union –refers to the Canadian Union of Public Employees as a whole. CUPE represents over 600,000 public-sector workers coast-to-coast, is Canada’s largest union, and has sectors that include municipalities, school boards, health care, social services and universities. We are Local 1975 of CUPE.

Union Member –all bargaining unit members are members of the union.

Work Stoppage –a temporary halt to work, initiated by workers or employers, in the form of a strike or lockout.


ASPA – Administrative and Supervisory Personnel Association

CAAT – Colleges of Applied Arts and Technologies (CUPE 1975’s pension manager, a third party, not for profit company).

CLC – Canadian Labour Congress
The Canadian Labour Congress is the largest democratic and popular organization in Canada with over three million members. The Canadian Labour Congress brings together Canada’s national and international unions, the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils.

CUPE – Canadian Union of Public Employees
With 600 000 members across Canada, CUPE is the largest Canadian Union that represents workers in health care, education, municipalities, libraries, universities, social services, public utilities, transportation, emergency services and airlines.

GMM – General Member Meeting

GSA-uSask – Graduate Students’ Association at University of Saskatchewan

GSA-uSask – Graduate Students’ Association at University of Saskatchewan

PSAC – Public Service Alliance of Canada – graduate students and postdocs

SDLC – Saskatoon and District Labour Council

SFL – Saskatchewan Federation of Labour

USFA – University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association

USSU -University of Saskatchewan Student Union