August 11, 2017
How Section 6 Contract Negotiations Work
Under the Railway Labor Act
This X-Ray will be the first of a multi-part series which provides information as to how this complicated process works, where we are in the process and where we could possibly find ourselves in the future. This series is an effort to give the pilot group a full understanding of the process in advance of our bargaining session scheduled for the last week in August. During the August session we anticipate the company will provide its counter proposal to the comprehensive proposal we presented in early July.
Please take a moment to review the most recent X-Ray that was published in early July. As a review it summarizes the last bargaining session that was held in Chicago.
With Air Wisconsin and ALPA having been in contract negotiations for about seven years, it would be understandable if some pilots have forgotten the process that got us to this point. For other, more junior pilots, this may the first time they have worked for an airline going through contract negotiations.
As our pilot group enters what we hope will be the endgame stage of our negotiations, whether you’re a senior pilot, a junior pilot, or somewhere in between, now is a good time for a refresher on how Section 6 negotiations proceed under the Railway Labor Act; how mediation and arbitration work; and the process we must use to get a new collective bargaining agreement.
RLA History & Section 6
The RLA became law in 1926 to provide a means of resolving labor disputes between railroad employees and their management. In 1936, the law was amended to include airline employees. The law is designed to minimize disruptions due to work stoppages in the national transportation system by structuring a formal process of dispute resolution and contract negotiations. The RLA also provides the framework for worker representation. The National Mediation Board (NMB), a three-member panel appointed by the President of the United States exists because of the RLA.
“Section 6” refers to the section of the Railway Labor Act that addresses the legal process for negotiating changes to employee union contracts as they approach their amendable date. It has become shorthand for “contract negotiations.”
One of the major differences between the RLA and the National Labor Relations Act, which governs union workers in non-rail and non-air industries, is that RLA contracts do not expire, they become amendable. The amendable date is not like an end date in other industries’ union contracts, where those employees can go on strike and their company can lock them out or unilaterally implement contract changes. Rather, under the RLA’s processes for reaching a new agreement, the NMB has a wide range of discretion to hold the parties in mediated negotiations for a significant period, and in some cases, this has meant for many years. During this time the legal “status quo” continues, which prevents self-help by the employees and also prevents a lockout of employees or unilateral changes to the contract by the Company that are not provided by the existing contract.
The RLA flow chart will give you visual guidance on the complexities of the process toward a new contract. Most, but not all, parties using this process reach agreement before using all the steps in the process. As you know, ALPA is committed to moving the negotiations process along as expeditiously as the situation allows.
Early on in the process the parties were in direct negotiations. As the name suggests, in direct negotiations the union and the company negotiate directly with each other without the assistance of a mediator. In the summer of 2013 the Company filed for Mediation and we have been in Mediation since that time.
The next X-Ray will address the process of mediation and how the parties found themselves in Mediation. We will continue to explain the process if mediated negotiations does not produce an agreement.
Your MEC and Negotiating Committee