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The threat of strike action by America’s railway workers in late summer 2022, in response to an inability to agree to a new contract acceptable to both management and labor, raised fears of a national economic shutdown. Although an agreement is pending ratification by rail union membership, a potential rail strike in an already-fragile economy highlighted an inherent tension in the way collective bargaining in the rail industry is governed under the Rail Labor Act (“RLA”). The RLA established a procedure-heavy process with designated roles for multiple federal government actors and an emphasis on mediation, establishing a new, independent executive agency, tasked with handling rail labor disputes, called the National Mediation Board (“NMB”). The most recent round of rail labor contract negotiations showcased the importance of the neutral mediation stage and the NMB in preventing economic shutdown, while also underscoring the politicization of rail negotiations under the RLA.

This post was originally published on the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution website on November 22, 2022. The original post can be accessed via the Archived Link button above.

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