National Mediation Board
NATIONAL MEDIATION BOARD
The National Mediation Board is a three-person board created in 1934 by an act amending the Railway Labor Act (45 U.S.C.A. §§ 151–158, 160–162, 1181–1188) to resolve disputes in the railroad and airline industries that could disrupt travel or imperil the economy. The board also handles railroad and airline employee representation disputes and provides administrative and financial support in adjusting minor grievances in the railroad industry. At the time the board was created, railroads were the dominant carriers of passengers and commercial goods. Railroad strikes were common, which disrupted travel and the national economy. In addition, friction between railroad companies and the railroad labor unions made negotiation of employment issues difficult.
The National Mediation Board was created to address these issues, first for railroads and later for commercial airlines. The board's major responsibility is the mediation of disputes over wages, hours, and working conditions that arise between rail and air carriers and organizations representing their employees. The board also investigates representation disputes and certifies employee organizations as representatives of crafts or classes of carrier employees.
The board may become involved in mediation when the parties fail to reach accord in direct bargaining. Either party may request the board's services, or the board may become involved on its own. Once the board has entered the process, negotiations continue until the board determines that its efforts to mediate have been unsuccessful, at which time it seeks to induce the parties to submit the dispute to arbitration. If either party refuses arbitration, the board issues a notice stating that the parties have failed to resolve the dispute through mediation. The notice triggers a thirty-day cooling-off period, after which either side may avail itself of self-help, which may include an employee strike.
The board must notify the president when the parties have failed to reach agreement through the board's mediation efforts and when the labor dispute, in the judgment of the board, threatens substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree that would deprive any section of the country of essential transportation service. In these cases the president has the discretion to appoint an emergency board to investigate and report on the dispute. In these situations self-help is barred for sixty days after the appointment of the emergency board.
If a carrier's employees cannot agree on who will represent them, the board must investigate the dispute and determine by a secret ballot election or other appropriate means to whom a representation certificate should be issued. In the course of this process, the board must determine the craft or class in which the employees seeking representation properly belong.
Disputes in the railroad industry concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions are referred to the National Railroad Adjustment Board. This board has four divisions, each one consisting of an equal number of representatives of the carriers and of national organizations of employees. In deadlocked cases the National Mediation Board is authorized to appoint a referee to sit with the members of the division for the purpose of making an award.
No national adjustment board has been established in the airline industry. Air carriers and employees have established bargaining relationships that create a grievance procedure with a board to resolve the conflicts. The National Mediation Board is frequently called on to name a neutral referee to serve on these kinds of boards when the parties cannot agree on such an appointment themselves.
The board consists of a chair and two other members. Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C.
Knibb, Shaunta M. 1997. "The Jurisdictional Shadowland between the NLRB and the National Mediation Board: Who's in Charge?" Washington Law Review 72 (January).
National Mediation Board Website. Available online at <www.nmb.gov> (accessed January 20, 2004).
Newman, Todd A. 2000. "A Suggested Approach to Applying the National Mediation Board's Railroad Merger Procedures." Labor Lawyer 15 (winter-spring).
U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <www.gpoaccess.gov/gmanual> (accessed November 10, 2003).