What’s the 411 you ask? How does this negotiations thing work? What step are we currently at in the process? We voted down that last Tentative Agreement (TA), why aren’t we doing away with it and starting from scratch? Why don’t we reopen all sections? How do we know if a section is closed? Do we get to know the specifics of a section once it’s TA’d or closed?
All of these are great questions. We also know that there are many more. Remember, many of us have been hired since negotiations started three years ago!
This blog is a way of answering questions, providing education of the process and giving you a resource to search for answers to your questions that may have already been covered. It will also provide an easy way to give feedback or ask for more clarification. We value our flight attendants time and are hoping to keep this a simple and clear way for you to have all the information you need to stay informed.
Q: How does this negotiations thing work?
A: When our contract reaches the end of an agreed upon duration, unlike other non-railroad/airline union workers, our contract doesn’t expire. It becomes amendable. This is a fancy way of saying we can now take it and attempt to make changes. Because we don’t throw it out and start a new one, we take the current contract and attempt to fix or change areas that have been identified as important—thus creating a new contract to work under. The FA group has its list of things to fix/change and so does management. This is where the process of negotiations begins.
Step 1: Direct negotiations begins – Once we start meeting with management there is no 3rd party involved. It is us and them. We agree together on the dates and both sides come to the appointed times with ideas and begin to negotiate what will be changed or added and how. This process is usually helpful until we reach the areas of the contract that are most contentious. Our contract includes many sections, some of which neither party needs to or tries to make changes or additions. These sections are the easiest to complete and close rather quickly. Once we finish these sections we are now set to negotiate the sections that both parties will be the furthest apart on. As we attempt to find a resolution there can come a point where it is clear that a 3rd party is needed to help move one or both of the parties along in the process. We applied for mediation at Alaska in May 2013. That was an attempt to avoid even longer delays in reaching a TA.
Step 2: Mediation begins – Once either party applies for mediation, we are appointed a federal mediator by the National Mediation Board (NMB). This person is now deciding when, where and how we meet. This person’s sole job is to get both parties to come prepared to mediation to reach an agreement on the sections of the contract that have not been able to close. The goal of the mediator is to push the process along to get to a TA for members to vote on. The mediator is not primarily concerned with how good the contract is – just that it is finished.
Once all sections are closed, a draft of the entire TA is presented to the union’s Master Executive Council (MEC) at Alaska. The MEC will decide whether or not to put the contract out for a vote. If that happens, it is put out for members to evaluate and vote on. In our process this is what we are now referring to as TA1. (not sure what this last sentence means?)
Step 3: Membership vote – If a membership votes Yes (to ratify) a TA it becomes the new contract and is in effect until the agreed upon end date when it becomes amendable again. If the membership votes No (declining to ratify the TA) we are scheduled to sit back down and reopen sections according to members’ priority of importance.
Step 4: Mediations begins… again – At this point – TA2 negotiations – it is expected by the NMB that only sections of paramount importance are reopened, not all sections. Remember their goal is to direct the process for both parties and to move us towards agreement. Opening all sections is an indication to the NMB that we are not looking to get to a second TA quickly, and this doesn’t look good for either side to take this approach. Because of the request for mediation, the mediator now controls when and where we meet. They decide how many days we will meet at a time. If they are not convinced that we are serious about reaching a 2nd TA in as quick a way as possible, they have the right to decline scheduling any further meeting dates. Essentially putting our entire process on hold.
Step 5: 2nd TA is reached – once an agreement is reached, it is voted on by the MEC (your LEC presidents). If approved it then becomes the 2nd TA which is published for review and vote by membership. At this point the process of Step 3 – 5 repeats as necessary or directed by the mediator.
So what if the MEC decides not to put the TA out for a vote or we have a TA that’s voted down again? At this point we are left at the mercy of the NMB, and they have a couple of options:
- Promptly schedule us back to the table and continue mediation (kind of unlikely).
- Put us on the shelf and leave us hanging – Basically they either recess our negotiations formally, or refuse to schedule dates, or schedule dates and then cancel them. The Company is not obliged to meet with us if the NMB does not schedule dates.
- Offer us a Proffer of Arbitration (issues not agreed upon to be decided by binding arbitration). Ok, here’s where it gets complicated…
- If a proffer is offered and either party rejects the offer – we are put into a 30-day Cooling Off Period (this happened in 1993). During this period the goal continues to be to reach an agreement. The NMB generally schedules a brief negotiations session towards the end of the 30-day period. This is informally known as “super-mediation”.
- At the end of 30 days, the parties are released to Self Help – the union can strike, management can impose the same or worse work rules, and is permitted to lock out employees.
- However, during this Cooling Off Period, the NMB can recommend to the President of the United States that he convene a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB). If he agrees (one never has said no before) then the 30-day count stops.
- A panel of ‘experts’ will meet and take a couple of months to craft a ‘possible new agreement.’
- If either union or management rejects the ‘possible new agreement,’ then the 30-day count starts over again.
- At the end of the 30 days, both parties are free to engage in Self Help: workers can strike and management can impose work rules that are outside of our contract agreement or lock out employees. But wait, there’s more….
- US CONGRESS (both the House and Senate) can vote to mandate that the ‘possible new agreement’ crafted by the PEB would be our new contract, enact it as a statute and that would be game over. To date this has not happened on the airline side of the Railway Labor Act, but has happened on the railroad side.
Q: What step are we at currently in the process?
A: We are in Step 5. You will see though, that Steps 3-5 repeat as necessary and as directed by the mediator and the 3 NMB Board Members appointed by the President of the US.
Q: We voted down that last TA, why aren’t we doing away with it and starting from scratch?
A: Contracts are in a sense living things. We have a current contract that never goes away just becomes amendable. As we negotiated TA1 we worked from the current contract making changes to language and provisions. Our current contract is always the foundation from which we work. As we started the second round of negotiations we made proposals based on the survey results, still using the contract as the foundation and incorporating any changes that were deemed good from TA1. Had we started from scratch we would have lost all of the good that was contained within the first TA. This also would have created another lengthy process that was not necessary. The goal is to get to a TA that the FA group can ratify in the quickest way possible. Starting over and throwing out the bad AND the good isn’t in our best interest. What was proposed was doing away with the provisions the FA group did not support and keeping the ones they did. At the same time proposing new provisions to replace or the ones not supported in TA1 or areas of new concern.
Q: Why don’t we reopen all sections?
A: This answer is 2 parts – 1st, not all sections had provisions that needed to be changed or that the FA group as a whole found problematic. Once a section is reopened, it is opened for both parties. Additions we deemed good can be taken out by management. The goal in reopening sections is always to better the FA group’s position.
2nd – As mentioned in the question “How does this negotiations thing work?”, the step we are currently in almost requires that we only open sections that need the most work and are of paramount importance. To insist on opening sections where no change is needed or was found to be satisfactory by the majority of the group would send a message that ultimately could be detrimental to our goals. Management has just as much right to renegotiate provisions as we do.
Q: How do we know if a section is closed?
A: On the new website you can see which sections are closed (Now they are all closed as we wait to present the deal to the MEC). If you are unsure if that section was ever reopened during this second round of negotiations you can look at our Opening Proposal (http://afaalaska.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/AFA-Alaska-2014-TA-2-Opening-Proposal.pdf) While we met in mediation, we always gave updates of what provisions were changed or stayed the same, in addition what sections have been recently closed. Sometimes we leave mediation agreeing to the provisions/concepts and agree to close a section but we need additional time to write the language to support the provisions within the body of the contract. This delayed writing is the way we use our time in mediation most efficiently.
Q: Do we get to know the specifics of a section once it’s TA’d or closed?
A: We do our best to provide as much information as possible in the way of explanations of the agreed on sections or provisions within the limitations our mediator has set. The concern here is that while a section is rarely reopened again it is possible. It’s also important to only share as much as we can without compromising our negotiating position for future sections that may be tied to or connected with other provisions that are still being negotiated. Our mediator cautions us in sharing any detailed information while we are still negotiating but we have identified that this method is not what is best for our FA group. We are hoping that this blog will help to answers questions or misinformation we see during the process.