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Key provisions of the Railway Labor Act

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Key purpose:Avoid interruption to interstate commerce and preserve labor relations harmony


  • National Mediation Board (“NMB”): The NMB administers issues involving representation, mediation, arbitration


  • System Board of Adjustment: Established at every unionized airline to resolve “minor disputes” (disputes over the interpretation or application of CBAs)


  • Federal Court: Federal court has limited jurisdiction over such matters as enforcement of the CBA (i.e. compelling the airline to adhere to an arbitrator’s ruling or to even allow the system board to hear a case) as well as “major disputes” (disputes over pay, rules, and working conditions)


  • Union represents the “craft or class” of the entire airline (and not just specific domiciles)


  • Union must have an initial showing of interest of 50% in order to call for an election


  • In order to be successful at the election, Union must earn the majority of votes cast


  • Employer airline must not interfere with “laboratory conditions,” meaning, it must not interfere, influence, or coerce employees in their free choice to determine which entity, if any, will represent them


  • An employer’s violation of an employee’s free choice can result in a re-run of the election or outright certification of the Union as the recognized exclusive bargaining representative


  • An unsuccessful campaign on the part of the Union results in an election bar of 1 year (meaning no Union can call for an election to represent the employees within 1 year)


  • A successful campaign on the part of the Union results in a certification bar of 2 years (meaning no other Union can seek the represent the employees now represented by a Union for 2 years)


Collective Bargaining:

  • Contracts do not expire, instead they become amendable


  • A Union cannot go out on strike before the Contract becomes amendable nor can an airline lock out members before it becomes amendable (meaning both sides must maintain the “status quo” until certain conditions occur after the contract becomes amendable)


  • Negotiating steps:
    • Section 6 notices: proposals from both airline and Union to amend the CBA
    • Unlimited negotiations (duration ends when one side asks for mediation)
    • Mediation: NMB-supervised, mandatory, and can last for a long period of time (“interminable”) 10 day window
    • Release
    • Proffer of arbitration
    • 30 day cooling-off period
    • After the 30 day cooling-off period fails to result in an agreement, the President of the United States can summon a Presidential Emergency Board (“PEB”) and prohibit the parties from resorting to self-help. Only if the President does not do so can the parties resort to Self-help (Union can strike/”CHAOS” or use other economic warfare tools, and Company can lock out workers, hire replacement workers, etc.)