Negotiations Process Under Section Six of the Railway Labor Act
Section Six of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) provides the framework for negotiations between airlines and union. Although it may seem unduly complicated, it's actually meant to ensure that the parties are truly at an irrevocable impasse before they can take actions, such as a strike, that might harm interstate commerce.
The first step in the RLA negotiations process is direct discussions between management and the union. Ideally, a tentative agreement is reached and ratified at this step. For us, direct negotiations began after our contract became amendable in February 2012.
The Mediation Process
Mediation & the National Mediation Board (NMB)
When progress stalls in direct negotiations, the union, management or both may file for mediation with the NMB. The NMB is the federal agency that oversees our negotiations. AFA applied for mediation in February 2015, and we have been in mediation ever since. There is no statutory time limit for the mediation process.
The President of the United States appoints the three NMB members. The Board assigns a mediator, who is a government employee, to assist the parties when negotiations break down. The mediator establishes when and where the parties will meet and may recess a case from time to time if it
is deemed appropriate. The mediator may suggest solutions, offer insight or push the parties to make tough choices, but she or he has no power to force either side to accept or make a given proposal.
When the NMB believes that mediation efforts will not result in an agreement, the Board makes a "Proffer of Arbitration" to the parties, proposing to resolve the remaining issues in binding arbitration. The union or the company may also request a proffer. AFA, like most airline unions, has never accepted a proffer because submitting our issues to arbitration takes control over the terms of the contract away from the parties.
The 30-Day Cooling Off Period
If either side rejects the Proffer of Arbitration, the NMB releases the parties from mediation into a "30-day Cooling-Off Period." During the cooling off period, the NMB invites the parties to further mediate the negotiations.
These last-minute negotiations are known as "super mediation."
The end of the 30-Day Cooling Off Period is commonly referred to as the "strike deadline," which often provides the time pressure needed to resolve the remaining issues in negotiations. The Self-Help deadline creates a new incentive for the parties to reach an agreement. Both parties feel the
pressure of Self-Help: Failing to reach an agreement by the deadline means that we would then be free to strike and that management would have the right lock us out or impose work rules.
What is Self-Help?
- For the Union, Self-Help means engaging in activities that may inflict economic harm on the Company, up to and including a strike.
- For the Company, Self-Help includes the right to unilaterally impose their changes to our Contract, or to lock us out (prevent us from working---in effect, a reverse strike).