The Role of National Mediation Board

During the first half of the 20th century and some centuries earlier, the main mode of transportation was a train. Trains were rather useful and played an important role in transportation of raw materials and human labor to the factories, and distribution of finished goods to the markets. At the same time, due to poor labor conditions and poor labor legislations, the railway sector experienced a lot of workers strikes that usually took a long while to be solved. This strikes, the inconveniencies and losses it caused led to The Railway Labor Act to be enacted in the year 1026 (Williamson, 2011). Later in the 1930’s, when the American economy was going through many challenges, and was faced with a number of financial problems, the National Mediation Board, a three-member board, was appointed and erected to help in settling any disagreements between railways (and latter airlines) employees, or employees unions and the respective employers. The Board was created to replace the Railway Mediation Board, and was mandated to solve any issues that may arise between railways (as well as airlines) employee unions and their employers in the following ways;

1.   Fast and effective resolution of problems emanating from the disagreements on new collective bargaining points.

In this area, the National Mediation Board is expected to provide quick resolutions for any disagreements that may arise between employer and the employees unions concerning new agreements, which are already signed or are about to be signed by the two parties. Because such agreements are subject to interpretation, a number of disagreements are likely to appear before the agreement is signed by the two parties, and the responsibilities they have to each other are distinguished. In case an employer and the employees disagree on some issues or matters, the NMB will be able to look at the situation and deliver their verdict to settle the dispute. The NMB has responsibility to provide a fast and efficient resolution that will not side with any party of the conflict. Because the Board’s decision may not always lead to the disagreement being determined, the Board has to be very wise in delivering a very well thought-out decision as well as considering the legal aspects of the case.

The NMB will, therefore, provide a common ground for the employees and the employer to make sure that their disagreements will not lead to a situation where a strike is called. Therefore, when interpreting the meaning and implications of the new collective agreements, the Board has a duty to make sure that the employers don’t use the misinterpretation of such agreements to be unfair to their employees.

The Board is also supposed to act in the same way with the revised collective agreements. Collective agreements, according to McGreggor (2009), are signed between the employees/workers unions and the employers, in most cases, with regard to the railways industry, where employers are considered to have the last word. When a new agreement of the kind is signed, it may bring misunderstandings between the employer and the workers unions, and, in this case, the NMB steps in, as the third party, to break the tie and solve the conflict. The Board is given power to offer judicial verdicts, and its verdict on such cases is respected, and usually is not overturned by the Supreme Court or the High Court of Justice. Being the third party with no vested interests, on any side, whether it is the employer’s side or the workers union’s side, the Board is able to deliver a decision, and carry a conflict resolution process that is likely to be accepted by the two conflicting sides.

However, as James (2010) asserts, the work of the NMB is not to sign or draft such agreements, or to determine when and how these agreements should be signed. The role of the Board is purely boiled down to solving any conflicts that may arise from signing new or changing old agreements by identifying the cause of the conflict and providing a solution. In many cases, the differences or conflicts will always emanate from the misinterpretation of the implication of such agreements, and the role of the Board, in such a case, is to provide the right interpretation of the issues stated in the agreement with regard to both constitutional law, as well as the labor laws. The Board is also mandated with making sure that such agreements are written and signed in accordance with the Railway Labor Act and Airline Labor Laws.

2.   The improvement of employees rights of representation and joining employees unions for collective bargains, especially in situation where there are disagreements on such issues.

The National Mediation Board is also mandated with the continual improvement of the employees’ rights of representation. As the Board has no foreseen date of dissolution, the Board is given a mandate to ensure continually that the employees’ always have a free right to be join the workers unions, and be represented by them, and that any person/group of people do not limit these rights. This role, with regard to the NMB, recognizes that the relationship between the employee and the employer will always face some complications, as the two parties will always have differences in points of view and conflicting interests; however, the Board’s mission is to find a compromise to satisfy each party Most employers are not comfortable with the workers unions because they put them under too much pressure. As a result, many employers seek to discourage their employees from joining such unions, and thus deny the employees a right to be represented. In such cases, the National Mediation Board steps in to protect and effectuate the right of the employees to be represented by a collective organization, that is, the workers union. However, on the other hand, workers unions do not always play positive role, and, in some cases, their power and their activities can be used to bring chaos into the process of firm/company management.

Effectuation refers to the continual development and improvement of the working conditions and relation between employer, employees, and workers unions. This means that the Board has a responsibility to make sure that employees’ right of representation is not just guaranteed, but is continually improved with time by iterating on the process of increasing the employees’ influences. The purpose or importance of this is that the better representation the employees have, the fewer conflicts are likely to arise in the process of solving issues between them and the employer. The National Mediation Board only mediates on conflicts between the workers or their unions and the employers, and which they have failed to resolve on their own. To reduce such cases, the Board will look for ways to make sure that the employees are well represented and that the employers have created better conditions for them to be represented, thus reducing conflicts between the employers and the employees. This is very important because the ultimate purpose of the Board is to reduce such conflicts whichever way.

In its role of effectuating the employees’ rights of representation, the Board must have futuristic vision, and must also have a future vision for the way the relationship between the employers and employees should be organized. As effectuation is a future bound process that is supposed to increase the chances of creating better conditions in the future with regard to a situation, the Board is given a responsibility of coming up with some ways to improve the future of the industry by peaceful settlement of conflicts and normalizing employer-employees’ relations. This means that the role and power of the Board is extended beyond just resolving the existing issues, but that the Board is actually responsible for preventing them from happening and avoiding such conflicts in the future. Acting this way, the Board will have fewer conflicts to solve in the future, and its work will be much easier.

3.   Quickly resolving conflicts resulting from the interpretation of already existing agreements between the employer and the workers.

The National Mediation Board, as part of its conflict resolution responsibility, is also mandated with the responsibility to resolve conflicts resulting from the new or altered interpretation of the existing workers union’s agreements. This is, probably, the most important role that the Board plays today; since most conflicts in the railway and airline industries arise from the misinterpretation of the agreements signed between the workers unions and the employers some years ago. The Board has to deal with such conflicts on many occasions. Just like its role in resolving conflicts resulting from the interpretation of new agreements, the Board plays a significant role of providing neutral ground for the right interpretation of the issues in the already signed agreements. The interpretation of such agreements is prone to misinterpretation by both the employers and the workers union’s members, as these two parties are known to have conflicting interests.

The National Mediation Board plays, therefore, an important role in resolving such conflicting issues, because without interference of the third party into such conflicts, the workers unions and the employers would be likely not to come to any agreement, and thus such conflicts would usually lead to strikes or lockouts, and hence would cause financial losses and serious inconveniencies for both parties, and the society in general. The Board offers useful mediation in cases whenever the employees and the employer disagree on some issues regarding the employee’s working conditions, salaries and remuneration, or reduction of personnel. As has been already discussed, the Board has a neutral interest in the relationship between the employees or their representative unions and the employer, and thus offers a resolution that is well balanced, by looking at both sides rather than swaying on the one side. The Board, thus, looks at the conflict and studies the source of the conflict, and comes up with an important solution, and this means that the Board will arbitrate on a solution. However, it is important to note that the Board’s verdict does not necessarily serve as a final decision in resolving the conflict. In cases where any of the sides of such a conflict is not satisfied, these organizations/unions can still use other alternative ways to address and resolve their grievance. In such a case, the role of the Board changes; the Board is asked to write a recommendation to the President concerning the conflict, and predict its possible impacts on the industry and the country in general.

With regard to this role of the National Mediation Board, it is clear that the Board provides mediation on conflicts emanating from any side of the relationship between the employers and the employees, or their union. This means that the Board does not only resolve on issues that are likely to lead to a strike of the employees, but that the Board will also be involved in resolving conflicts that threatens to lead to a lockout of the employees by the managers. The Board is supposed to stop the employees from striking, or a union from calling a strike. On the other hand, the Board will prevent management of the industry from initiating a lockout in the case where the management is convinced that the employees are out of line and that they must be put in their place.

4.   Other minor roles

Brown and Ivan (2011) point out another role of the National Mediation Board; the minor role of the Board is to oversee the election in workers unions. This is to ensure equality and fairness during the process of election of union leaders, and making sure that the union in the railway and airline sector acts in accordance to the Railway Labor Act or Airline Labor Laws with the aim of developing a good platform for a workers union. Other minor roles performed by the National Mediation Board include resolving issues emanating from the nature of the certain conflict or union. In some cases, there may be conflicts concerning the issue of who is represented by whom. The NMB, in this case, resolves the conflict by providing guidance for workers representation, and providing a final decision in cases where the bone of contention is a question of which union represents which group of employees.


The main role of the National Mediation Board is to resolve workers union related issues to make sure that the railways and airlines industries are operated smoothly without emerging of workers strikes or lockouts by the management. The Board has been doing its work and carrying its duties very efficiently since its formation in the early 1930s. The current Board consists of two former union members and an official, and this makes it more positioned to understand and tackle union related matters. For this reason, the Board has been very effective as shown by their role in recent cases.

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