- The Railway Labor Act (RLA)
- The National Mediation Board (NMB)
- The Negotiations Process
- Current Timeline
Just as the airline industry as a whole is heavily regulated, the process of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement is also governed by a series of regulations and laws. The primary law that governs how the Union and Company go about negotiating a contract is called the Railway Labor Act (RLA). A government agency known as the National Mediation Board (NMB) is responsible for administering the RLA and working to resolve any disputes between Union and Company. The process of negotiating a contract, including when the NMB gets involved and what steps must be exhausted along the way, is spelled out and must be followed under the law.
Read on to learn more about the RLA and NMB below. Then head over to find out more about the negotiations process itself including a step-by-step breakdown of each part of system. Finally, take a look at our current timeline for an overview of important events related to Our Contract 2022.
Credit for this section to “The Railway Labor Act Simplified” by the Pennsylvania Division of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division – IBT
The Railway Labor Act (RLA) was passed in 1926 to allow railroad union workers to resolve disputes with management while minimizing the potential for interstate commerce disruptions. The airline industry was folded into the RLA under Title II in 1936. The RLA was the first federal law guaranteeing the right of workers to organize and join unions and elect representatives without employer coercion or interference. The RLA makes it the duty of all carriers and their employees to exert every reasonable effort to voluntarily settle disputes. Negotiations procedures were historically contained in Section 6 of the RLA, which is why one often hears “Section 6” as a catch-all phrase for everything having to do with negotiations under the RLA. The RLA is currently located in 45 USC Chapter 8 Sections 151 – 188.
Who is Covered?
The RLA applies to freight and commuter railroads, airlines, companies directly or indirectly controlled by carriers who perform services related to transportation of freight or passengers and the employees of these railroads, airlines and companies.
- Avoid any interruption to commerce.
- Assist in the prompt and orderly settlement of disputes covering rates of pay, work rules, or working conditions.
- Assist in the prompt and orderly settlement of disputes growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of existing contracts covering the rates of pay, work rules or working conditions.
- Ensure an unhindered right of employees to join a labor union (added in 1934).
- Provide complete independence of organization by both parties to carry out the purposes of the RLA.
“Minor” vs. Major” Disputes
Disputes are divided into two categories under the Railway Labor Act: “minor” (resolved via the grievance and arbitration process) and “major” (resolved via the negotiations process).
Grievances growing out of the interpretation or application of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). – System boards of adjustment (often administered by a neutral third-party arbitrator) have exclusive jurisdiction over grievance disputes. A system board’s findings are conclusive, and any awards through this process are binding on the parties. Self-help (e.g., work slowdowns or stoppages, worker strikes or management imposed work rules) not allowed. (See “Arbitration in the Airlines Industry: System Boards of Adjustment” by Thomas J. Kassin and Sarah L. Fuson for more information.)
Matters affecting rates of pay, rules and working conditions; and the creation or modification of the collective bargaining agreement between the parties. – There is almost total reliance upon collective bargaining for major dispute settlement. Self-help (e.g., strikes and imposed work rules) are permitted after negotiation and mediation procedures have been exhausted.
What is the National Mediation Board (NMB)?
The National Mediation Board (NMB) is an independent United States government agency that is responsible for facilitating labor-management relations within the U.S. airline and railroad industries. The board was established by the 1934 amendments to the Railway Labor Act of 1926 and derives its authority from the same.
The NMB is headed by a three-member Board. Appointees are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Board Members select a Chairman from amongst themselves, usually on an annual basis. Terms of appointment for Board Members are three years, but they may continue to serve until they are replaced.
What does the NMB have to do with our contract negotiations?
The NMB has authority under federal law as the national mediator for collective bargaining disputes in the airline and railroad industries. Under the RLA, if direct negotiations between the Union and the Company are unsuccessful, mediation facilitated by an NMB mediator is the next step in the negotiating process. The NMB may also, at its own discretion, impose mediation upon the parties if it believes that doing so is in the best interest of the public.
Neither the Union nor the Company can exercise “self help” without first attempting to resolve any remaining collective bargaining disputes through mediation and being released from further negotiations by the NMB.