An Incompletely Conceptualized Statute

The Railway Labor Act’s Quasi-Federal Agency and its Quasi-Constitutional Protections

One of the most significant and longest lasting pieces of labor legislation has at its core a highly uncertain body. The Railway Labor Act of 1926 (RLA), which covers railroads and airlines, is in part effectuated by The National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB), an agency whose core identity has largely been unexamined. The RLA was passed 9 years prior to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and has served as a model for subsequent labor legislation. The RLA provides a mechanism through which labor disputes between railroads, and currently airlines as well, could be handled in a peaceful, non-disruptive manner.

This paper addresses the various dimensions, issues, and problems associated with the NRAB and its identity. It attempts to examine the NRAB’s identity through the lens of due process and state action, and tries to take up a question that the Supreme Court left open several years ago in Union Pacific Railroad v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & TrainmenThis inquiry is important because it attempts to better identify a unique federal agency at the heart of American transportation and provides another lens through which to examine the complicated state action doctrine.

First published in 38 Transportation Law Journal 1 (Spring 2011). Published with permission.