- The Railway Labor Act (RLA) governs the process of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement in the railroad and airline industries in the United States.
- Mediation is a step in the negotiation process facilitated by a mediator appointed by the National Mediation Board (NMB).
- The process does not have a set time limit and can end in a tentative agreement or lead to further options if unsuccessful.
Our contract negotiating process is governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The RLA is a federal law that governs labor relations in the railroad and airline industries. The Act, passed in 1926 and amended in 1934 and 1936, seeks to use bargaining, arbitration, and mediation to resolve labor disputes in place of strikes when possible. Its provisions are enforced by the National Mediation Board (NMB), a government agency specializing in mediating airline and railroad labor disputes.
Under the RLA, a specific process must be followed when negotiating a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This process is outlined in Section 6 of the RLA and begins with direct negotiations between the Union and the company. Our Negotiating Committee started the process in September 2022. We’ve now reached the next step—applying for mediation through the NMB.
What Happens During Mediation?
The mediation process is managed and overseen by the NMB. Once mediation is requested, the NMB assigns a neutral mediator to the case. The mediator is a government employee with experience in collective bargaining. The mediator’s role is to help the parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement by facilitating communication, identifying areas of agreement and disagreement, and suggesting possible solutions. The mediator works to assist the parties in reaching a voluntary agreement and does not have the authority to impose a settlement or make binding decisions.
Once mediation begins, the NMB-appointed mediator controls when and where negotiation sessions will occur. However, our Negotiating Committee and the company can continue to meet without the mediator present to engage in discussions and work toward an agreement.
How Long Does Mediation Take?
The process of mediation doesn’t have a set time limit. It can be quick or take a long time, depending on how complicated the issues are and other factors specific to each situation. The NMB has the power to decide when to end the mediation process. According to the RLA, the NMB will end mediation when it believes that all reasonable attempts to come to an agreement through mediation have been unsuccessful.
What Are The Possible Outcomes of Mediation?
If the mediation is successful, the parties will reach a tentative agreement. The Master Executive Council (MEC) must approve the agreement before it goes out for a Member ratification vote. If the Members ratify it, the new contract will go into effect.
However, if mediation reaches the point where no further progress can be made, the NMB may offer to submit the remaining disputed issues to voluntary but legally binding arbitration (called a “proffer of arbitration”). The AFA Constitution & Bylaws require that collective bargaining agreements reached through RLA Section 6 negotiations be sent out to a Member vote. Therefore, AFA will always reject a proffer of arbitration as it would impose a contract on Flight Attendants that we did not have the opportunity to vote on. If the Union or the company rejects the arbitration offer, either side can petition the NMB to be released from further negotiations.
Once released, a 30-day cooling-off period begins. Mediation continues and may lead to a tentative agreement, which requires a Member vote. If talks are not progressing, the President of the United States may establish a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). The PEB consists of a panel of three neutral arbitrators who conduct a hearing and then decide all open issues. Members will again have the right to vote on this contract. If the Members reject the PEB’s agreement, Congress can pass a law imposing the contract. This is an extreme and rare situation, although it recently happened in the railroad industry.
If no agreement is reached and a PEB is not established by the end of the 30-day cooling-off period, the Union and the company can exercise self-help. For the company, this includes options such as imposing work rules at their discretion or locking out Flight Attendants. AFA’s options may include work stoppages or other job actions (such as CHAOS™).
An in-depth explanation of the entire negotiation process can be found on our Contract 2022 website. If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Local Mobilization Committee Chairperson or our Negotiating Committee.