Railway Labor Act

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The Railway Labor Act is a United States federal law that governs labor relations in the railroad and airline industries. The Act, passed in 1926 and amended in 1936 to apply to the airline industry, seeks to substitute bargaining, arbitration and mediation for strikes as a means of resolving labor disputes.


Historical antecedents to the RLA

After the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, which was put down only with the intervention of federal troops, Congress passed the Arbitration Act of 1888, which authorized the creation of arbitration panels with the power to investigate the causes of labor disputes and to issue non-binding arbitration awards.[1] The Act was a complete failure: only one panel was ever convened under the Act, and that one, in the case of the 1894 Pullman Strike, issued its report only after the strike had been crushed by a federal court injunction backed by federal troops.

Congress attempted to correct these shortcomings in the Erdman Act, passed in 1898.[2] The Act likewise provided for voluntary arbitration, but made any award issued by the panel binding and enforceable in federal court. It also outlawed discrimination against employees for union activities, prohibited "yellow dog" contracts (employee agrees not to join a union while employed), and required both sides to maintain the status quo during any arbitration proceedings and for three months after an award was issued. The arbitration procedures were rarely used. A successor statute, the Newlands Act, passed in 1913 and proved to be more effective,[3] but was largely superseded when the federal government nationalized the railroads in 1917. (See United States Railroad Administration.)

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