Negotiations

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The Negotiations Process

Direct Negotiations

The first step in the RLA negotiations process is direct discussions between management and the union. Ideally, a tentative agreement is reached and ratified at this step.

Prior to any negotiations the MEC selects the members of the negotiating committee. Members of the committee are Endeavor Flight Attendants who bring a wide range of experience to the table. The MEC also selects a staff negotiator from the AFA-CWA international office to help facilitate the negotiations.

After the MEC makes its selections the staff negotiator and negotiating committee begin their work. The contract is analyzed from cover to cover to identify issues where improvements are needed. A negotiations survey is conducted to get as much Flight Attendant feedback as possible. Using these, a contract “opener” is written and presented to the MEC. The opener contains a list of issues that are to be addressed at negotiations. After approval from the MEC the committee is ready to begin negotiations.

At the first session the company and committee exchange openers and talk through the issues to be addressed. At subsequent sessions proposals are passed on the contract sections until tentative agreements (TAs) are reached on each proposal. Negotiating sessions generally take place once per month, with the committee working on proposals and counter proposals in the interim. Generally, economic items such as pay are negotiated at the end while issues that are typically less contentious are taken care of at the beginning

If all sections are able to be TAd then the negotiating committee meets with the MEC at length to go through each provision that has been agreed to. The MEC then votes on whether to send it to the Flight Attendants for ratification. If the MEC votes yes the negotiating committee conducts road shows in each domicile to present the TA and answer questions.

The last step is ratification. After the road shows are complete Flight Attendants are given the opportunity to vote on the contract. If a majority of Flight Attendants vote yes, the contract is ratified.

The Mediation Process

If progress stalls in direct negotiations, the union, management or both may file for mediation with the NMB. The NMB is the federal agency that oversees our negotiations. There is no statutory time limit for the mediation process.

The President of the United States appoints the three NMB members. The Board assigns a mediator, who is a government employee, to assist the parties when negotiations break down. The mediator establishes when and where the parties will meet and may recess a case from time to time if it is deemed appropriate. The mediator may suggest solutions, offer insight or push the parties to make tough choices, but she or he has no power to force either side to accept or make a given proposal.

When the NMB believes that mediation efforts will not result in an agreement, the Board makes a “Proffer of Arbitration” to the parties, proposing to resolve the remaining issues in binding arbitration. The union or the company may also request a proffer. AFA, like most airline unions, has never accepted a proffer because submitting our issues to arbitration takes control over the terms of the contract away from the parties.

The 30-Day Cooling Off Period

If either side rejects the Proffer of Arbitration, the NMB releases the parties from mediation into a “30-day Cooling-Off Period.” During the cooling off period, the NMB invites the parties to further mediate the negotiations.

These last-minute negotiations are known as “super mediation.”

The end of the 30-Day Cooling Off Period is commonly referred to as the “strike deadline,” which often provides the time pressure needed to resolve the remaining issues in negotiations. The Self-Help deadline creates a new incentive for the parties to reach an agreement. Both parties feel the pressure of Self-Help: Failing to reach an agreement by the deadline means that we would then be free to strike and that management would have the right lock us out or impose work rules.

What is Self-Help?

  • For the Union, Self-Help means engaging in activities that may inflict economic harm on the Company, up to and including a strike.
  • For the Company, Self-Help includes the right to unilaterally impose their changes to our Contract, or to lock us out (prevent us from working—in effect, a reverse strike).

Conclusion

The negotiations process is structured in a way to allow parties to come to agreement without having to using meditation. However, in some cases mediation is necessary when direct negotiations stall and an agreement cannot be reached and mediation is often successful. In very rare cases the NMB releases the parties into a 30 day cooling off period after which self-help is allowed. The chart below illustrates the process from beginning to end.