About the Section 6 Process
United Airlines will begin contract negotiations with all six of the unions that represent our employees in April of 2009. This process is governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), the U.S. federal law that governs collective bargaining in the airline and railroad industries.
Current collective bargaining agreements become amendable at the end of 2009 or the very beginning of 2010 (depending on the specific contract). Terms of the existing contracts remain in effect throughout negotiations, even if these negotiations extend past the amendable date.
Under the RLA, negotiations with each union will follow the same basic structure. This structure is explained below and outlined on a chart from the National Mediation Board.
Exchange of Openers and Direct Negotiation
The formal negotiation process will begin in early-April with individual meetings between United and each of the unions. At these initial meetings, both parties will exchange what are known as “Section 6 notices” or “openers”, which are letters that lay out each side’s opening suggestions for changes to the existing agreements.
After both parties have had a chance to review these initial openers, direct negotiations will begin between designated representatives from United and each of the unions. During this period, United and each of its employee unions will talk directly. The company and union can reach agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement at any point. The new agreement would then be sent out to union members for a ratification vote.
If a carrier and union reach a deadlock in direct negotiations, either party can request mediation by the National Mediation Board (NMB), an agency of the U.S. government. The NMB is not required to agree to oversee mediation when the parties request it but could review the progress made to determine whether the parties should continue on their own or whether a mediator’s services would aid the process. The NMB has the option of deferring mediation if it believes the parties can make progress in direct negotiations. At the point where the NMB concludes that mediation would aid the negotiation process, it will appoint a mediator. There is no time limit for mediation under the RLA; it continues until either the parties reach an agreement or the NMB determines that the parties are at an impasse. When the NMB determines that the parties are at an impasse, it must offer arbitration as described below.
If mediation proves unsuccessful, the NMB must also ask the parties if they will agree to submit the matter to binding arbitration. Arbitration is voluntary. If both United and the union agree to arbitration, the NMB would appoint an arbitration board that would hold hearings and issue a binding decision on new contract terms.
If either party rejects arbitration, the NMB will issue a “release,” which starts what is called the 30-day cooling off period. During the 30-day cooling off period, the existing contract remains in effect and the union may not strike. During the cooling off period, the NMB will often attempt “super-mediation” in which the members of the National Mediation Board will personally attempt to mediate the dispute.
If the parties have not reached an agreement by the end of the cooling-off period in this process, one of two things would happen.
If the NMB determines that the dispute substantially threatens essential transportation services to any section of the country, it must notify President Obama, who may choose to establish a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). If the President appoints a PEB, it will conduct hearings and submit a report and recommendations to the parties and the President. The recommendations are not binding, and the parties may choose to accept the recommendations of the PEB, reject the recommendations or negotiate their own agreement. During the entire PEB process and for 30 days after the PEB reports to the President, the carrier must maintain the terms of the current contract and the union may not strike. At the end of the 30-day period, either party may exercise self-help, meaning that the union may strike and the carrier may implement new terms of employment.
If the NMB does not determine that the dispute substantially threatens essential transportation, or the President elects not to appoint a PEB, the parties may initiate self help at the end of the 30-day cooling off period.
If the NMB and President conclude after a strike has begun that the dispute threatens essential transportation services to any section of the country, they can still convene a PEB. If that occurs, the carrier must restore the existing contract terms and the union must end any strike until the PEB process is completed.