AFA filed an application for mediation with the National Mediation Board (NMB) on May 1, 2013. We are publishing this special update to make sure you have all the information you’ll need about mediation.
1. What is mediation?
According to the dictionary, mediation is
“an attempt to bring about a peaceful settlement or compromise between disputants through the objective intervention of a neutral party.”
The purpose of mediation under the Railway Labor Act is to foster the prompt and orderly resolution of collective bargaining disputes in the railroad and airline industries. The National Mediation Board (NMB) views the objective of mediation as assistance to the parties in achieving agreement. The Board sees the role of the mediator as an active participant in the process.
However, the Board does not care if the Flight Attendants or management get a good contract. Their goal is to get both parties to agree to a contract, not determine the contents.
2. How does mediation affect you?
First and foremost, it is critical that you continue to provide the same award-winning service to our customers when we are in mediation. Now it is even more important for you to stay informed and involved than before. The NMB will be dedicating themselves to help us get a new contract, but the real pressure will come from you. You will be able to do this by showing solidarity and throwing your support behind the negotiating committee with your AFA pin, by participating in contract visibility campaigns, informational leafleting and many other activities which we will begin soon.
Many people think going into mediation is the magic answer for our negotiations. This is not true. It’s you who makes the magic. You are the one, along with the other Flight Attendants, who will make things happen.
3. What does all this mean if I am a probationary Flight Attendant?
We strongly suggest that all probationary Flight Attendants stay informed and continue to wear their AFA pin. As for other union-sponsored solidarity activities and actions (displaying special bag tags, joining in informational picketing, etc.), your participation is best left to after you successfully complete your probationary period. We are fighting for improvements for you and your career here at Alaska and will welcome your active support after you are no longer on probation.
4. Why did we file for mediation?
We exchanged openers in November 2011 and began direct negotiations. Direct negotiations is the first stage of the negotiations process. During direct negotiations, management and the Association continuously exchange proposals for various sections of the contract. When we reach agreement on a section, we say that we have a tentative agreement (TA). We methodically work through the contract (starting with the least controversial sections) until we have a tentative agreement on the entire contract. That’s what we have been doing for the last 18 months.
Now we are down to money. Compensation looms as the largest open item on the table and, not surprisingly, we are demanding more than the management team wants to pay. Both parties have passed a couple of comprehensive proposals and progress has stalled. Now is the time to request assistance from the National Mediation Board: Mediation.
5. What happens next?
Mediation is simply the next step in the negotiations process. (See the attached RLA flow chart.) We weren’t able to go any further in direct negotiations, and it didn’t make sense to keep spinning our wheels. The Master Executive Council (MEC) and the Negotiating Committee decided to move the process forward.
6. How does mediation work?
The NMB appoints a mediator, whose job is to assist the parties in reaching an agreement. He or she is an employee of the NMB, is non-partisan and can only make suggestions (though sometimes quite strongly). The parties retain control over the process. We anticipate that the mediator will contact both parties within the next few weeks to schedule a meeting and asses our situation.
Typically, the mediator will put the AFA Negotiating Committee in one room and the management team in another room. S/he then shuttles back and forth, passing along proposals and adding input and making suggestions. The mediator also brings the parties together and is present at all negotiations sessions. S/he can make suggestions/ and suggested proposals, but cannot force either party to agree to a proposal.
7. Who is our mediator?
Earlier today AFA learned that our mediator was assigned. Her name is Victoria Gray. From the NMB website (http://www.nmb.gov/directory/gray-victoria_bio.html):
Victoria joined the National Mediation Board as a Mediator in July of 2009 with 40 years of labor relations experience in the airline industry as a labor advocate. She began her career as a Flight Attendant with Trans World Airways (TWA) and served in many elected union positions with the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants (IFFA), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).
With the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants, Ms. Gray served eleven (11) years as President, seven (7) years as Vice President, and four (4) years as member of the corporate Board of Directors and Vice Chair of the Creditor’s Committee for TWA. With the Teamsters, she served as an International Representative for thirteen (13) years.
She was a member of the County of Los Angeles Community and Senior Citizens Services Voluntary Mediation Services program and is a member of the Pro Bono Panel of Mediators for the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Ms. Gray earned her undergraduate degree in Anthropology from California State University at Northridge. She also has a certificate in Industrial Relations from the University of California at Los Angeles and a certificate in Alternate Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute at the Pepperdine University School of Law.
It is important to understand that the mediator does not take sides. His/her only interest is in concluding an agreement without a strike.
8. What authority does the mediator have?
The mediator controls the schedule. S/he can move the parties out of town to make negotiations more inconvenient. The most the mediator can do is persuade or suggest the parties’ to compromise or otherwise accept the other’s proposals. The mediator has no authority to force us to agree to anything, or to reach a contract that we don’t find acceptable. The mediator has the authority to put the parties into a “recess” for a while if s/he feels that a break from mediation would be beneficial.
Should the mediator decide that further talks would be fruitless, and the parties are at impasse, s/he may recommend to the Board that a proffer of arbitration be made. Should the Board concur, the proffer is made. If the NMB determines that we cannot reach an agreement, and makes the proffer – it sends the process into a 30-day cooling-off period, as discussed below. In no case can the mediator force us to accept any proposal or agreement.
9. Then what’s the point if they cannot force management?
Sometimes it just takes a neutral, objective person (the mediator) to help one or both parties see the light. We have to go through the RLA process.
10. How does mediation affect our contract?
It doesn’t. The current contract remains in full force and effect throughout the mediation process.
11. Do we start with a “clean slate” in mediation?
No. We pick up right we left off in direct negotiations. All the tentative agreements that we reached in direct negotiations remain as they are. We will most probably continue forward with our abbreviated proposal and address only the open issues. That being said, tentative agreements are precisely that—tentative. Any of them may change as we move toward a package agreement.
12. Is mediation secret?
No. We will be able to give you just as much information on our progress during mediation as we did in direct negotiations.
13. How long will mediation last?
We can’t predict that – There is no way to tell how long mediation will take. It could be months, it could be over a year. The RLA does not contain any time limits. The NMB will keep us in mediation until we either have a contract or cannot make any further progress.
14. When will mediation start?
The NMB will assign a mediator, who will then contact AFA and management to find mutually agreeable dates to meet.
15. How does mediation differ from direct negotiations?
In mediation, the mediator is part of the process and works as a neutral facilitator. Other than that, we’ll be discussing the same issues with the same people, trying as always to reach a mutually acceptable contract. You probably won’t notice much difference, other than seeing the mediator’s name in our updates.
Mediation is required by law when the parties have deadlocked in direct negotiations. In no case can the mediator force us to accept any proposals.
16. Does mediation mean we’re on strike or that we can do CHAOS™?
No. That could happen only if the NMB determined that mediation was hopelessly deadlocked and the parties were at an impasse. (Of course, if we reached a contract in mediation, we wouldn’t ever get to that point.) It is never our goal to seek out the use of CHAOS™ unless absolutely necessary.
The NMB would first “proffer arbitration,” which is an offer to submit our outstanding issues to interest arbitration. AFA almost always rejects interest arbitration. If we did reject it, we would then be placed into a “cooling-off” period for 30 days.
During the cooling-off period, we would engage in intense negotiations known as “super mediation.” As before, the NMB could not force us to reach an agreement. Should super mediation fail, both sides would be free to engage in “self-help.” For us, this would mean CHAOS™ strikes. CHAOS™ stands for “Create Havoc Around Our System.” Rather than all 3,100 of us going on strike, we strike select flights. The chaos that this creates for the Company gave this method of striking its name. Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants created CHAOS™ in 1994 to achieve our agreement that year.
17. What are the main issues in mediation?
The main remaining issues are (in no particular order) compensation, retirement, medical Insurance, sick leave, attendance, scope (job and duties protections) and the contract duration.
If you have more questions, please email the Negotiating Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out a VOICE comment card. We will continue to publish the answers on a regular basis.
Stay strong, stay informed and stay united!
Your MEC – Jeffrey Peterson, Terry Taylor, Yvette Gesch, Melanie Buker, Laura Masserant, Cathy Gwynn and Sandra Morrow
Your Negotiating Committee – MEC President Jeffrey Peterson, Brian Tracy, Karina Cameron-Fetters, Jake Jones and AFA Staff Negotiator Paula Mastrangelo
“Five Bases, One Voice”
Negotiations Procedures Under the Railway Labor Act: http://www.alaskamec.org/docs/Negotiations%20Procedures%20Under%20the%20Railway%20Labor%20Act.pdf