Collective Bargaining Agreements

Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in the commercial aviation industry are negotiated between labor unions and airlines to establish terms and conditions of employment for covered employees. Drafting a CBA is a complex process that typically involves a team of negotiators from each party, along with legal counsel and subject matter experts. The negotiation process typically takes about four years unless both sides agree to an expedited process. Contract talks often involve back-and-forth proposals, mediation, and arbitration.

Once union and company negotiators agree on the language for a new contract, the result is called a “Tentative Agreement.” This document is then placed before front line union members who will vote to either accept (ratify) or reject the proposed agreement. If union members approve the agreement, it goes into effect in accordance with the rules that both sides agreed upon. If union members choose to reject the agreement, contract talks resume.

The CBA created in this process is a legally binding agreement that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties, as well as the procedures for resolving disputes. Given the importance of CBAs in shaping the working conditions and compensation of aviation industry employees, drafting a CBA requires careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding of the relevant laws and regulations.

The Railway Labor Act

The Railway Labor Act (RLA) was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1926, in response to labor unrest in the railroad industry. The law established a framework for labor relations in the railroad industry that emphasized collective bargaining, mediation, and arbitration as means of resolving disputes between employers and labor unions.

In 1936, the RLA was amended to cover the airline industry as well. Today, the RLA remains the primary federal law governing labor relations in both the railroad and airline industries. The RLA affects airline workers in several ways. First, it requires airlines and labor unions to negotiate in good faith to reach collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that establish the terms and conditions of employment for covered employees, including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and ground crew. Second, the RLA provides for a number of dispute resolution mechanisms, such as mediation, arbitration, and emergency board procedures, to prevent work stoppages and strikes that could disrupt air travel. Finally, the RLA requires airlines to provide advance notice of proposed changes to working conditions, wages, and benefits, and to bargain with labor unions over these changes.