Collective Bargaining Under the Railway Labor Act

  1. As a first step, both sides serve a “Section 6 Notice” detailing proposed changes to an existing labor contract. Once a Section 6 notice has been served, bargaining enters the first of potentially many stages. An agreement could be reached at any stage.
  2. Bargaining continues until the parties reach agreement, or either side breaks off negotiations or requests mediation by the National Mediation Board (NMB). The NMB also can proffer mediation on its own. Once in mediation, the NMB controls the schedule of talks and the timing of release from mediation. There is no time limit. Mediation usually continues for as long as the NMB believes that an agreement is possible.
  3. If the NMB believes further mediation will not bring the parties to agreement, it offers binding arbitration to both sides.
  4. If either side refuses arbitration, the status quo is maintained during a 30-day “cooling off” period, during which self-help* is not permitted. After the cooling off period, self-help is permitted.
  5. During the cooling off period, the NMB may determine that the dispute threatens “to interrupt interstate commerce.” If the NMB makes this determination, it notifies the President, who may choose to appoint a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to investigate the dispute and issue recommendations.
  6. The parties can accept or reject the PEB’s recommendations. If either party rejects them, they can resort to self-help* after 30 days. On a number of occasions, Congress has stepped in to halt a strike.

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