RLA: A Duty to Unionize?

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Aircraft service employees threatened to close Seattle’s airport. They were disgruntled about the suspension of a co-worker, and they banded together with a community organizer (not a union agent) to threaten a strike. The employer sought a federal injunction against a strike, arguing that, because the employees and employer were covered by the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”), the employees had a legal duty to bargain the dispute before trying to strike. The employer won, and prevented the strike. Now what?

According to the 9th Circuit, the RLA imposes a duty on all covered employees to make agreements concerning working conditions and to settle all disputes, while avoiding interruptions to the operation of a covered employer. Employees – even non-union employees – may not strike first and bargain later. Of course, under the RLA, the employees cannot make agreements or settle disputes individually with their employer. No, the employees have to appoint a representative to deal with the covered employer. Even if they do not join a union, the employees have to deal with the employer collectively. This leaves employees with a three tine fork in the road: give up the dispute, unionize, or break new ground by appointing a collective representation without the structure of a union. Aircraft Serv. Int’l., Inc. v. Int’l Bhd of Teamsters AFL CIO Local 117, No. 12-36026 (9th Cir. January 10, 2014).


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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