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41 Stat. 577 (1926), as amended by 48 Stat. 1185 (1934), 49 Stat. 1185

(1936), 54 Stat. 785, 786 (1940), 64 Stat. 1238 (1951), 78 Stat. 748 (1964), and 80 Stat. 208 (1966); 45 U.S.C. $§ 151-88; F.C.A. 45 SS 151-88.

Summary and Description The Railway Labor Act governs the labor relations of railroads and airlines and their employees. The act makes it the mutual duty of carriers and employees to make and maintain agreements, guarantees and provides for the exercise of labor's collective bargaining rights, and prescribes methods for the settlement of various types of disputes.

The act applies to all railroads, express companies and sleeping-car companies engaged in interstate commerce and their subsidiaries such as refrigerator car companies, bridge companies, and others engaged in transport, transfer, or storage services) and to airlines engaged in interstate and foreign commerce and transportation of mail.

Two agencies administer the act:

The National Mediation Board in Washington, D.C., composed of three members appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, handles disputes concerning (1) designation of representatives for collective bargaining purposes, (2) negotiation of changes in rates of pay and new or revised collective bargaining agreements, and (3) interpretation of agreements reached through mediation.

The National Railroad Adjustment Board in Chicago, Ill., is composed of 34 members, 17 of whom represent and are paid by the carriers, and 17 by the national railway labor organizations. Unlike the National Mediation Board, it has jurisdiction only over railway carriers and employees. It makes final and binding decisions in disputes growing out of grievances or the application and interpretation of existing agreements.


Section 2 of the act states that: Employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. Section 2 (3), (4), and (5) of the act, outlined below, which protect this right, are made a part of every collective agreement.

In order to protect workers in exercising this right, carriers are forbidden to do any of the following acts:

a. To deny or question the right of their employees to organize or to interfere with their organization (sec. 2(4)).

b. To use funds of the carrier in maintaining any labor organization or to pay any employee representative (sec. 2(4)).

c. To influence employees to join or not to join any labor organization (sec. 2(4)).

d. To require employees to sign any agreement promising to join or not to join any labor organization (sec. 2(5)).


Section 2(3) of the act states that collective bargaining representatives shall be designated by the respective parties without interference, influence, or coercion by either party over the designation of representatives by the other; and neither party shall in any way interfere with, influence, or coerce the other in its choice of representatives.

It is specifically provided that employee representatives for collective bargaining shall not be required to be employees of the employer.

The act states that the majority of any craft or class of employees shall have the right to determine who shall be the representative of the class or craft (sec. 2(4)). While the Board has no power to establish crafts or classes of employees, it may designate who may participate in representation elections. Such determinations are usually made in the light of accepted practice in employee self-organization over a period of years.

Where any labor organization, committee, or employee representative asserts that a dispute exists concerning representation of employees for the purposes of the act, it is the duty of the National Mediation Board to investigate such a dispute and conduct an election by secret ballot or any other suitable method to determine who is the collective bargaining representative of the employees (sec. 2(9)). If a majority of the employees in a craft or class chooses an individual or a labor organization, the Board then issues a certification of that fact to the parties and the carrier.

The act was amended in 1951 to specifically provide (sec. 2(11)) that carriers and labor organizations may negotiate union shop and checkoff agreements.

Interference by carriers in the designation of employee representatives is a misdemeanor. Employees may also appeal to the Federal courts for an injunction to restrain the carrier from violating the act.


Section 2(1) states: It shall be the duty of all carriers, their officers, agents, and employees to exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements concerning rates of pay, rules and working conditions, and to settle all disputes whether arising out of the application of such agreements or otherwise, in order to avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier growing out of any dispute between the carrier and the employees thereof.

Every carrier is required to file with the National Mediation Board a copy of every contract with its employees, as well as all changes when made.


The act provides for the following procedure in making and revising agreements:

a. Notice.-Carriers and employees alike are required to give at least 30 days notice of any intended change in their collective bargaining agreements regarding rates of pay, rules, or working conditions, and within 10 days the time and place for a conference shall be agreed upon.

b. Mediation. In case of a dispute not settled in conference, either party may request the mediation services of the National Mediation Board. The Board, at its discretion, may also proffer its services without a request.

c. Arbitration. If mediation is unsuccessful, the Board shall endeavor to induce the parties to submit their controversy to arbitration. However, the act does not compel the parties to arbitrate. Arbitration boards, when agreed upon, may consist of 3 or 6 members, one-third of the number being appointed by each party to the dispute, who must then choose the remaining members. If they fail to do so within a time limit specified in the act, the Board appoints the neutral members. At the request of either or both parties, any arbitration board so established shall also have authority to pass on any dispute over the meaning or application of its award.

d. Emergency Boards.-Should arbitration be refused by either party and the dispute remain unsettled, and should it, in the judgment of the National Mediation Board, threaten substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree such as to deprive any section of the country of essential transportation service (sec. 10), the National Mediation Board is required to notify the President. The President may then, at his discretion, appoint an Emergency Board to investigate and report within 30 days. During this period, and for 30 days after the Board has made its report to the President, no change may be made in the conditions which gave rise to the dispute except by mutual agreement of the parties.



The National Mediation Board, on request of either party, will give interpretations of agreements reached through mediation. The following procedure is prescribed for all other instances of disputes arising out of agreements.

a. When disputes arise growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements, they shall be handled through the regular grievance procedure in the contract, up to and including the chief operating officer of the carrier.

b. If no adjustment is reached, either or both parties may peti-
tion the appropriate division of the National Railroad Adjustment
Board, submitting a full statement of the facts and supporting
data. The Board is divided into four divisions, each representing
the carriers and the labor organizations equally.
Divisional jurisdictions are:

First Division—train, engine, and yard service employees.
Second Division-shop crafts.

Third Division-station, tower, telegraph, dispatching, clerical, store, maintenance-of-way, sleeping car, and dining car employees and signalmen.

Fourth Division-Marine service employees, and all other employees not included in the first three divisions.

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c. The appropriate division may hold hearings if requested by either party and make an award.

d. If the division fails to agree and cannot itself agree on a referee, the National Mediation Board is required to appoint a referee to sit with the division and make an award.

e. Awards of the Adjustment Board are final and binding. If a carrier fails to comply with a money award, such as the payment of back pay, the employee or labor organization in whose favor it is made may apply to a U.S. district court for enforcement.



Airline carriers and their employees are required by the act to establish machinery for the adjustment of grievances as a part of their collective agreements.


While conferences on making or revising agreements are being held and while the National Mediation Board is acting in any dispute, the carrier may not alter rates of pay, rules, or working conditions.


All carriers covered by the act are required to post notices specified by the National Mediation Board stating that all disputes will be handled in accordance with the act, and reprinting sections of the act relating to the rights of employees.


Violation by a carrier of the provisions outlined above regarding rights of employees, determination of collective bargaining representatives, giving notice of intended change of agreements, and posting notices, is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $20,000, imprisonment, or both. Claims of violations should be filed with the U.S. district attorney in the area where the violation occurred.

Text of Act

(Section numbers refer to the act, not to the United States Code)



SECTION 1. When used in this Act and for the purposes of this Act

First. The term "carrier” includes any express company, sleepingcar company, carrier by railroad, subject to the Interstate Commerce Act, and any company which is directly or indirectly owned or controlled by or under common control with any carrier by railroad and which operates any equipment or facilities or performs any service

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