Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Our Next Steps in Bargaining
We are entering a critical period of our bargaining for a new contract. We have bargained over all the non-economic sections of the agreement and will soon pass our economic proposals across the table.
As many Flight Attendants have not been through the process, we must have a clear understanding of the steps to reach an agreement under the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
The RLA governs negotiations in the airline and rail industries and provides a framework for bargaining. Bargaining provisions are under Section 6 of the RLA. You will often hear this referred to as Section 6 bargaining as opposed to bankruptcy or merger bargaining.
Under the RLA, the Union and company first engage in direct negotiations with the other side without the assistance of a Federal Mediator. We are nearing the conclusion of this phase. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement or believe mediation would be helpful, either side or both can file for mediation with the National Mediation Board, the Federal agency that administers the RLA. Once we file for mediation, a mediator is assigned, and from that point forward, the mediator controls the timing and location of bargaining. The mediator cannot force either party to agree to proposals.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement in mediation, the Union may request that the National Mediation Board release us from further bargaining and into a 30-day cooling-off period. After the cooling-off period, the parties can engage in self-help, which for the Union is to strike or other forms of economic pressure. The company can lock out workers and impose contractual terms.
Traditionally, the Union would take a strike vote before requesting a release, so all members decide our strategy. No set time frame for this exists, but it would normally take place after economic proposals are exchanged and discussed and it appears that both parties are dug into their position (often referred to as an impasse).
The National Mediation Board has absolute discretion whether to grant a release to strike, and they have proven difficult to obtain. A strike vote or a request for a release does not mean the strike is happening automatically, but it is an important step in pushing forward the fight for our contract.
As negotiations heat up, all Flight Attendants must understand that it is illegal to engage in self-help prior to the end of a cooling-off period. That means no calls to not pick up open time, refusing to perform duties, coordinating calling in sick, etc. Flight Attendants have been terminated at other carriers simply for posting or ‘liking’ such posts on social media. Unions can become bogged down in defending against injunctions.
We have a strategy to win the agreement we deserve and need everyone on the same page.
We encourage all Flight Attendants to follow negotiations intently, discuss bargaining with co-workers, show up for pickets and other solidarity activities, and stay united. Wear your Union pin every day, every trip. We are committed to fighting for the contract American Flight Attendants deserve, and we can only get that with the full and informed participation of 24,000+ members.
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Your APFA Negotiating Committee
Kelly J. Hagan
Joe Burns, Lead Negotiating Attorney