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The National Mediation Board

In 1926, Congress passed the Railway Labor Act (RLA) to govern the resolution of disputes within the railroad industry. The RLA was amended in 1934, and the National Mediation Board (NMB) was created. In 1936, the jurisdiction of the RLA was expanded to include the airline industry. The NMB is an independent federal agency tasked with enforcing and interpreting the RLA. This article summarizes the major functions of the NMB.

The NMB's main role is to implement the dispute resolution procedures spelled out in the RLA. An overarching objective of the RLA is to minimize work stoppages that threaten service in the railroad and airline industries. The NMB's work focuses on three major goals:

  • Efficiently resolving disputes involving the creation of or the alteration of collective bargaining agreements (major disputes);

  • Ensuring that employees retain their right to self-organization when representation disputes arise; and

  • Efficiently resolving disputes involving the interpretation or application of existing collective bargaining agreements (minor disputes).

NMB Role in Major Disputes

The NMB employs a host of seasoned mediators who work with disputing parties, at their request or at the instigation of the NMB itself. The NMB leverages its experience and expertise in mediation to determine when a dispute is not likely to be resolved through mediation. The NMB seeks to have parties with unresolved disputes agree to submit their disputes to binding arbitration. Because of the NMB's active participation in mediations between parties to a collective bargaining agreement, most major disputes are resolved without any disruption in transportation services. When the NMB sees that major transportation disruptions threaten, it has the role of alerting the President to that fact. A Presidential Emergency Board may then be convened.

NMB Role in Representation

The NMB is responsible for overseeing the employee representation process. As such, the NMB must ensure that employees in the airline and railroad industries are able to exercise their rights to select a labor organization to represent them, if they so choose, for collective bargaining without "interference, influence, or coercion" by the carrier. Initial representation applications are investigated by the NMB, the NMB determines and certifies employees' collective bargaining representatives, and the NMB is tasked with handling disputes related to representation process itself. Decisions such as whether the employees in a particular class have selected a collective bargaining representative or what happens when two carriers with represented employees merge fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the NMB.

Dispute Prevention

The NMB, in addition to its mediation and adjudicatory roles, provides training and support to carriers and unions within the jurisdiction of the RLA. The NMB seeks through all of its activities to prevent labor disputes within the railroad and airline industries from jeopardizing interstate commerce.