The present grievance procedures in the railroad industry are governed by the Railway Labor Act. One of the purposes of the Railway Labor Act is "to provide for the prompt and orderly settlement of all disputes growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules or working conditions."
How is this objective to be carried out? The law requires that "all disputes between the carrier or carriers and its or their employees shall be considered and, if possible, decided with all expedition, in conferences between representatives designated and authorized so to confer, respectively, by the carrier or carriers and by the employees thereof interested in the dispute."
The law provides further "the dispute between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules or working conditions... shall be handled in 'the usual manner' up to and including the chief operating officer of the carrier designated to handle such disputes..."
What is meant by "the usual manner"? This means simply in accordance with practices under the agreement on the property. It is quite clear that the Railway Labor Act sought to maintain the procedure of handling grievances on the properties, and in no way sought to bypass such procedure. In other words, the Railway Labor Act in no way sought to impose any specific grievance procedure for the union or the railroad system except to insist the grievance be handled in a prompt manner and in conference.
In the normal course of any grievance procedure, not all the grievances will be disposed of satisfactorily between the parties, and some procedure must exist to resolve such disputes. To meet this problem, the Railway Labor Act provides for a tribunal, called the National Railroad Adjustment Board, which was designed to handle grievance cases on appeal. In later years, an amendment was placed in the Railway Labor Act to provide for the establishment of Special Adjustment Boards (PLB's and SBA's) on individual properties.
It might be noted at this point, failure to abide by the grievance procedures of the contract and failure to abide by the requirements of the Railway Labor Act with respect to the holding of conference might provide the basis for the rejection of a grievance by the National Railroad Adjustment Board or a Public Law Board. In this situation, it would more likely involve the General Chairperson rather than the Local Chairperson; however, both should be familiar with the requirements of holding a conference. For example, suppose you have a situation where the General Chairperson calls the carrier officer on the telephone, contending the telephone conversation is the required conference. There is very little chance a telephone call would hold up as a "conference".