Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Negotiations Update #40:
Mediation Release Request, Next Steps and Frequently Asked Questions
Julie Hedrick, the APFA National President sent a letter to the National Mediation Board on Monday, November 20 requesting a release into a thirty day cooling off period. This represents the next phase in our comprehensive campaign for a new contract.
The big question of course is when will the NMB act upon our request? The answer is we do not know. There is no set timeframe for the NMB to act on our request as the decision to release us is solely within the discretion of the mediation board. While we understand this can be frustrating it is the process under the Railway Labor Act.
We have written extensively about what it takes to get a release into a thirty day cooling off period (Negotiations Update #34 – Where We Are/Next Steps/Video Message) and the hoops we must go through to exercise our right to strike under the Railway Labor Act. We have narrowed our issues and believe we meet the standard to be released. We believe that the standard has been applied too strictly in the last decade with the result being airline workers have had our right to strike eroded. This is just one more reason working with other unions is important as ensuring our right to strike will involve the entire labor movement.
In the meantime, the parties still have an obligation to bargain, and mediation sessions will continue. Our next session is scheduled for December 12-14 in Tampa, Fl, a location chosen by the Federal mediators. The Company can come forward and settle this contract at any point by giving us a response to our comprehensive proposal which meets our needs.
We need to keep the pressure on….Continue to wear your red WAR pin, red lanyard, and bag tags until we secure the contract we’ve earned.
National Mediation Board (NMB)
Q1: What is the National Mediation Board (NMB)?
A1: The NMB is a U.S. government agency responsible for mediating labor disputes in the airline and railway industries. It plays a key role in facilitating negotiations between labor unions and airline management.
Q2: What is the purpose of requesting release to the NMB?
A2: The federal mediator initially works with both parties to encourage dialogue and find common ground. The mediator does not have the authority to impose a settlement but aims to assist the parties in reaching a voluntary agreement. A request for release to the NMB is made by a labor union when negotiations with an airline reach an impasse. The request for a release is the union making the argument to the NMB that we are at impasse and should be released to strike. The decision however is up to the NMB.
Q3: What happens after a request for release is submitted?
A3: The NMB reviews the request and, if granted, initiates a 30-day “cooling-off” period. Federal mediators, from the NMB, have already been assigned to assist in facilitating negotiations between the Union and the airline.
Q4: Why does the letter request a “proffer of arbitration?” Does that mean we are arbitrating our contract?
A4: As you will notice, the letter requests a “proffer of arbitration” which is the actual wording the Railway Labor Act uses. Under the RLA, the Board proffers arbitration to both parties and when it is rejected that releases the parties into a thirty-day cooling off period. We, of course, have zero interest in arbitrating our contract and believe we need a strike deadline to force the company to settle this dispute.
Q5: Will negotiations continue while we wait to hear back from the NMB?
A5: Yes, we have scheduled negotiations dates in December.
Q6: What is the point of meeting with management now that we have asked to be released by the NMB?
A6: Under the Railway Labor Act, once we are in mediation the NMB sets the timing and location of negotiations. Additionally, the ball in in the Company’s court so they can settle this contract at any point by passing a proposal which meets our needs.
Q7: Since we have asked the NMB to be released, can we organize a mass “sick” or some other action?
A7: No, we can only participate in a job action against the company after the 30-day cooling-off period has expired. Any job action prior would be considered illegal, and involved employees would face discipline and the Union could be held liable for any financial impact to the company. It is important to follow the direction of the Union during this critical time. Negotiations Update #28: Illegal Self-Help Tactics
Q8: What happens if we not released to strike prior to the holidays? Will we lose our leverage?
A8: The company runs at record load factors almost every day of the year. In years past, there was an obvious high and low season. That is no longer the case. While it may seem more impactful during the holidays, the potential financial impact against the company will be just as significant once released.
Q9: What happens if the NMB grants the request for release?
A9: If the NMB grants the release, a 30-day “cooling-off” period begins. During this period, a federal mediator from the NMB assists in negotiations. If an agreement is reached, it is subject to ratification by the Union members. If no agreement is reached, the process may proceed to further stages, including the possibility of self-help measures after the end of the cooling off period.
Q10: What if the NMB denies the request for release?
A10: If the NMB denies the release, the parties remain in mediation, and negotiations continues. If the company does not change its position, we will keep pushing for our statutory right to strike.
Q11: What happens if we reach a tentative agreement before hearing back from the NMB?
A11: We anticipate continuing negotiations while we wait to hear back from the NMB, and it is possible that we could reach an agreement with management. However, this is not likely, given management’s lack of movement at recent negotiation sessions.
Railway Labor Act (RLA)
Q12: Are we requesting arbitration from the NMB or a cooling-off period?
A12: Under the RLA, we must request a “proffer for arbitration.” However, one or both parties can agree to the arbitration request, which would begin a 30-day cooling off period. APFA has no intention of agreeing to binding arbitration.
Q13: Why do Flight Attendants fall under the Railway Labor Act (RLA)?
A13: Flight attendants fall under the RLA because the RLA covers employees engaged in the transportation industry, including airlines.
Q14: How Does the RLA differ from other labor laws?
A14: Most private sector workers are covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Under the NLRA workers are able to strike once the contract expires. So recently auto workers and Hollywood actors and writers were able to strike without permission of the government. Airline and rail workers are governed by the RLA which has additional hoops we must go through before exercising our right to strike.
Q15: How long does the entire process take?
A15: The timeline can vary, and there is no set duration. It depends on factors such as the complexity of the case and the willingness of the parties to negotiate. The process may involve several stages, including mediation, a cooling-off period, and the potential involvement of a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB).
We understand the frustrations that come with the prolonged negotiations and the uncertainty surrounding the release into a thirty-day cooling off period. While it may feel like an uphill battle, this is the process dictated by the Railway Labor Act.. The request for mediation release is a crucial step, and though we can’t predict the NMB’s timeline, stay steadfast.
Let’s focus on our collective strength. As we await the NMB’s response, channel your energy toward American Airlines management. Hold management accountable for delays in securing the contract improvements you deserve. Stay united, stay resilient, and let’s maintain the pressure for the contract we’ve earned.
Your APFA Negotiating Committee
Kelly J. Hagan
Joe Burns, Lead Negotiating Attorney