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Tip Tuesday: Negotiating Under the Railway Labor Act

October 22, 2019

The Railway Labor Act (RLA) is the U.S. labor law covering the railroad and airline industries. Its purpose is to avoid interruption to commerce; allow freedom of association among employees; provide for the prompt and orderly settlement of all disputes concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions; and provide for the prompt and orderly settlement of all disputes growing out of grievances. Below are a few key pieces of information to remember when negotiating under the RLA:

  • The National Mediation Board (NMB) is the federal agency that oversees the RLA and provides programs to meet its mandate, directed by three board members nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
  • Labor contracts negotiated under the RLA do not expire; they become “amendable”, meaning that on the last day of the contract, if no agreement has been reached, all terms and conditions of the labor contract remain in status quo while bargaining continues.
  • If direct labor negotiations under the RLA do not result in a new agreement, either or both parties may an application for mediation with the NMB, after which a mediator will be appointed.
  • It’s important to brief the mediator at the first meeting, clearly stating your party’s position on the open issues, with supporting financial and industry comparative data that the mediator can retain for reference during the mediation process.
  • The mediator sets the dates and locations for all sessions and the NMB has the sole discretion to release the parties from mediation, only after which the Company and the Union can resort to legal self-help, e.g., a lock-out and/or strike.
  • To increase your chances of a successful mediation, it is essential to keep the mediator and the board members up to date on all relevant issues during the mediation process, particularly issues that could have a significant impact on the mediator’s role at the bargaining table.