Rail Labor Has Negotiated in Good Faith
The current round of bargaining began with an exchange of “Section 6” notices, in which the carriers and the unions exchange information on the changes they plan to pursue in negotiations.
Six of the Class I railroads are represented by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which is the bargaining arm of the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC). All rail unions are now bargaining as a single “United Rail Unions” coalition, after two previously separate bargaining coalitions.
After years of unsuccessful direct negotiations between the coalitions and the NCCC, both coalitions were in mediation by January 2022.
February to April 2022
Both Rail Labor bargaining coalitions requested to be released from mediation. The National Mediation Board rejected the requests.
With the bargaining coalitions at an impasse, the National Mediation Board called all parties together for a rare “super mediation” meeting. The parties met for three straight weeks, with negotiations remaining at an impasse. It is unfortunate but not surprising that contract agreements were not achieved through voluntary mediation due to the bad faith effort by the railroads. The railroads’ offer of a net pay cut and demand for health care concessions are wholly unacceptable as they simultaneously tout record–breaking profits.
June 14, 2022
Given the impasse, the National Mediation Board proffered binding arbitration.
June 16, 2022
The deadline for all parties to respond to the proffer of arbitration. Because binding arbitration inherently means that rank and file union members will not have the option to vote on their contract, which violates their unions’ constitutions, Rail Labor has rejected the offer of binding arbitration. The rejection of arbitration triggered a 30-day cooling-off period, after which parties could engage in self-help that would lead to service disruptions.
July 15, 2022
President Biden signed an Executive Order creating a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) of neutral arbitrators to investigate and make recommendations that may end the dispute. With a PEB made up of presidentially appointed fact-finders, workers still have an opportunity for negotiation and ratification of their contract. The creation of the PEB forestalls a work lockout or stoppage for 30 days.
August 16, 2022
The PEB’s report was due by August 16th. The report was issued on August 16th and can be viewed here. There is an additional 30-day cooling off period after issuance of the PEB’s report which allows parties to negotiate over adoption of the recommendations.
September 16, 2022
After the issuance of the PEB’s report, there is an additional 30-day cooling off period which allows parties to negotiate over adoption of the recommendations. Since the PEB’s report was issued on August 16th, the additional cooling-off period under the RLA started then and concluded on September 16th.
August to November 2022
Each of the thirteen unions is individually negotiating with the railroads on a tentative agreement. Once a union has reached a tentative agreement, they will put out their agreement to their members for a ratification vote. The ratification vote by each union’s members is governed according to the unique ratification process that each union has in their constitution.
These ratification votes will take place on a rolling basis between August and November 2022. The unions have voluntarily extended their cooling off period through their ratification vote deadlines to give their members time to vote on the tentative agreements.
If the ratification vote fails, unions and railroads can go back to the bargaining table to reach a revised tentative agreement. Unions and railroads may voluntarily extend the cooling off period and most unions also have an agreement that automatically extends their cooling off period if the ratification vote fails. Once any cooling off period has expired and if there is no ratified contract, unions and railroads can seek self-help such as a work lockout or strike.
In rare instances when the parties have not reached an agreement before exhaustion of the RLA negotiation process or any extended cooling off periods, Congress has stepped in to prevent or terminate service disruptions. Past congressional measures have sometimes included implementation of PEB recommendations, additional cooling-off periods to continue negotiations, and compulsory arbitration.
The last Presidential Emergency Board was convened in 2014, and the last time Congress imposed a freight rail industry labor contract was in 1992 after the Class I railroads locked out their workers and shut down service.