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Overview & FAQ

Overview & FAQ

Employee Representation

Under the Railway Labor Act, the NMB is responsible for effectuating employee rights of self-organization where a representation dispute exists.


One of the purposes of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) is to effectuate employee rights to self-organization. The RLA provides that employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. It is the National Mediation Board’s (NMB or Board) duty to resolve any disputes among employees as to who are their collective bargaining representatives. The NMB investigates these disputes, ensuring peaceful resolutions without disruption to interstate commerce.

The NMB investigates representation disputes in the railroad, commuter railroad, and airline industries only. Collective bargaining representation of employees in other private industries is administered by the National Labor Relations Board pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act. (www.nlrb.gov.) Collective bargaining representation of employees in the Federal sector (United States government employees) is administered by the Federal Labor Relations Authority pursuant to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, Title VII. (www.flra.gov.) Collective bargaining representation of other public sector employees (state, county, and municipal government employees) varies and depends on whether there is a state or local law which permits collective bargaining.


The primary responsibilities of the NMB regarding representation are as follows:

  • Initializing investigation of representation applications
  • Determining and certifying representatives of employees
  • Ensuring that the process occurs without interference, influence or coercion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Basic FAQ

What is the role of the NMB in representation matters?

It is the NMB’s duty to investigate and resolve representation disputes in the railway and airline industries.

How do representation disputes come to the NMB?

A labor organization (organization) or an individual employee can request that the NMB investigate an alleged representation dispute by filing Form NMB-1, ”Application for Investigation of Representation Dispute.” The organization or individual is also required to file a “Notice of Appearance” with the application which is available at the same link.

Who investigates representation matters?

Representation investigations are conducted and supervised by the NMB’s Office of Legal Affairs.

What are the procedures for investigating representation applications?

The procedures are detailed in the NMB Representation Manual (Manual) available here:


Generally, an organization or individual seeking representation rights or seeking to decertify a representative must file an application requesting an investigation. The application must be supported by authorization cards. Inappropriate cases, the NMB determines the appropriate craft or class; the eligible voters; whether an election will occur; and the schedules for an election.

Applications FAQ

 What is an authorization card?

An authorization card is a card or document signed by the employee which states that the employee desires to be represented by an organization or individual for collective bargaining purposes. Authorization cards must have the name of the organization or individual seeking to represent the craft or class, and must be signed and dated by the employee. Typically, authorization cards also include the following information: employee address, telephone number, job title, employee number, and social security number. The NMB compares the signed authorization cards to the List of Potential Eligible Voters supplied by the carrier to determine the percentage of employees signing authorization cards (generally referred to as the “showing of interest”). The employee signature on every authorization card is checked against the signature sample provided by the carrier, and the NMB also checks that the date is valid.

The language on authorization cards must be unambiguous and the NMB must be able to determine the employee’s intent. In an accretion application, the authorization cards must be unambiguous and state clearly the sole purpose of the card. The NMB will not accept authorization cards requesting a representation election as support for accretion applications or certification by card check. Cards which both request an election and authorize the applicant to represent the employees will also not be accepted as support for accretion applications or certification by card check.

What is the mandatory format for the Carrier’s List of Potential Eligible Voters?

The Carrier must deliver to the Board’s Office of Legal Affairs by 10 a.m., ET, on the date specified in the docketing letter, three copies of an alphabetized list of potential eligible voters and a copy of the alphabetized list on a diskette or CD as a Microsoft Excel file. The format for the List of Potential Eligible voters provided below must be followed.

Specifically, the format of the List of Potential Eligible Voters must be prepared in five columns or fields exactly as shown in the sample format in the docketing letter (columns A, B, C, D, E, only). There must not be any other information or data in the file, diskette, or CD, except as displayed in the five columns or fields on the sample format. The data in the Microsoft Excel file is contained in cells. The column headers, also known as field headers, must appear in the first row of cells only. Therefore, the first row is for column headings only, and all subsequent lines contain only voter information. The Carrier must not include any hidden columns or fields in the Microsoft Excel file. Also note that the employee middle initial appears with the first name. There is no separate column or field for the middle initial. In addition, no other data should appear above the column headings.

The mandatory Microsoft Excel format can be downloaded at (Download Microsoft Excel Format). Carrier representatives should contact the NMB Elections Administrator at 202-692- 5040, if they have any questions about the correct format for the list of potential eligible voters.

What is a showing of interest?

A showing of interest is the percentage of the craft or class that has signed authorization cards. An application must be supported by a 50% showing of interest, in the form of employee authorization cards. Authorizations will be considered invalid if dated more than one year prior to the date on the NMB application.

Can an employee in the craft or class sign an authorization card for more than one organization?


What is an Intervenor?

Once an organization has filed an application, another organization may intervene in the representation dispute and place itself on the ballot by presenting authorization cards signed by at least 50% of the employees in the craft or class.

How can employees change their labor organization?

Employees can change their labor organization by signing authorization cards for another organization, which then files an application and “wins” an election.

How can employees decertify their current representative without getting another one?

Employees can decertify their current representative by signing authorization cards stating that they no longer wish to be represented by their current organization and filing an application seeking an election.  If a majority of the valid votes cast in that election are for no representative, the current representative will be decertified.

Can employees form and elect their own union?

Yes, employees can form their own organization if they submit an application supported by a sufficient showing of interest.

Investigation FAQ

What does the NMB do after an application is received?

The general procedure is for the NMB to docket the application, assign it an R-case number, and designate an Investigator who will handle the case investigation. The docketing letter sets forth a time schedule for the carrier to provide a list of potential eligible voters and signature samples. If the NMB notes anything unusual about the application (for example, an unusual craft or class, a jurisdictional question, or an accretion), the NMB does not docket the application, but gives the matter a CR-file number and conducts a pre-docketing investigation.

What is a craft or class?

Craft or class is a term used for the group of employees the applicant seeks to represent. Crafts or classes must be system-wide.

What factors are considered in determining the proper craft or class?

The Board considers several facts in determining a proper craft of class including: the composition and relative permanency of the employee grouping along craft or class lines; the functions, duties and responsibilities of the employees; the general nature of the work performed, and; the community of interest between job classifications. See Manual Section 9.1 here: Representation Manual.

Who is eligible to vote in the election?

All employees working in the craft or class and who are employed as of the last day of the last payroll period prior to the receipt of the application by the NMB are eligible to vote in the election. Employees severing their employment relationship (e.g., by resignation, termination, retirement, death, or promotion) during the balloting period are normally removed from the list. See Manual Section 9.2 here: Representation Manual.

Who is ineligible to vote in the election?

Employees who do not have an employer-employee relationship, for example management officials, contractor employees, or discharged employees. See Manual, Section 9.2 here: Representation Manual.

Does the NMB provide home addresses to organizations in representation campaigns?

The NMB does not provide home addresses to organizations in representation elections. In extraordinary circumstances, where the NMB determines that due to prior interference with the laboratory conditions by the carrier or voter confusion, the NMB may provide the home addresses of eligible voters to the organization.

Can a union be certified by the NMB without an election?

Yes. If there is only one labor organization applying for representation, and the organization and the carrier agree in writing to a certification based on a check of authorization cards, the NMB can authorize the check of authorizations instead of an election. If a majority of the craft or class has signed authorizations, the organization will be certified without an election.

Can my job or position be added or accreted to an existing certified craft or class without an election?

Yes. An organization which is certified to represent the craft or class may file an application supported by a showing of authorization cards seeking to accrete jobs or positions into the craft or class. The Investigator then determines if the position(s)’ duties and responsibilities share a sufficient community of interest with the craft or class. If the position(s) share a community of interest, and if the number of employees accreted are fewer than those in the total craft or class, the NMB will accrete the employees in that position in the craft or class without an election.

Voting FAQ

How are NMB representation elections conducted?

On September 3, 2021, the NMB announced that elections will be conducted by mail-in ballot for a period of time as the agency transitions to a new electronic voting system.


Is the NMB eliminating Telephone Electronic Voting (TEV) and Internet Voting?

No, the NMB is not eliminating Telephone Electronic Voting (TEV) and Internet voting. TEV was implemented on September 30, 2002, and Internet Voting was implemented on October 1, 2007, and have been the primary means of conducting the representation elections under the Railway Labor Act since that time. However, effective September 3, 2021, the NMB announced that while it transitions to a new electronic voting system, it will hold elections by a secure mail-in ballot process, as provided for in NMB’s Representation Manual and has been done in many past NMB elections.

The Board shares a unified commitment to return to Telephone Electronic Voting (TEV) and Internet Voting as soon as possible. Electronic voting has been used in hundreds of past NMB elections where thousands of rail and air employees freely determined their chosen representatives or decided to end representation and deal directly with their employer. The Board also shares a commitment to build a new electronic voting system that is safe and secure and fully complies with all federal security standards.

Why is the NMB switching to mail ballot elections?

As part of the ongoing federal government cybersecurity evaluation process, all agency IT systems in use are examined to ensure compliance with federal standards. The NMB is committed to compliance with federal information security requirements. Pursuant to this evaluation process, the NMB requested certain IT information from its electronic voting contractor. Based upon its evaluation, the NMB decided to no longer use a contractor to operate its TEV and Internet Voting process, and initiated a process to build a comparable electronic voting system internally. The use of mail ballot elections is an interim measure until the NMB’s electronic voting process can be implemented.

How does the mail ballot process work?

Approximately five weeks prior to the tally, each voter is mailed a ballot package consisting of a ballot, instructions, and a ballot return envelope. In a standard mail ballot election, employees cast their ballot by marking the ballot and returning it to the NMB’s offices using the postage-paid return envelope sent to them by the NMB. The way to vote for representation is to select one of the “Yes” options. The way to vote for no representation is to select the “No” option for no representative. The votes are tallied manually in the NMB’s offices in Washington, DC. The results of the tally are provided to the participants in writing.

Is the NMB representation process confidential?

Yes. All NMB voting is by secret ballot. Each eligible voter will be sent a ballot package. The ballot package is mailed directly to the employees’ homes. The ballot package will consist of a ballot, instructions, and a postage-paid return envelope. Each envelope will contain an election code and a unique voter identification number. Requests for duplicate ballot materials must be made in writing and signed by the individual employee. Use of another voter’s ballot materials is prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 1001. The NMB does not disclose the ballot choice of any voter.

How do voters vote no?

If a voter wishes to vote against representation, they select “No. I vote for no representative” on the ballot.

What is the process for requesting a duplicate ballot?

The process for requesting a duplicate ballot is set forth in instructions sent to each voter as well as posted at each base. The voter must request a duplicate ballot in writing and no group requests will be honored.

Can voters change their votes?

No. Once the ballot is successfully cast, a voter cannot change their vote. The voter cannot request a duplicate ballot in order to change their vote. If a voter returns both an original ballot and a duplicate, the duplicate will be marked as void and only the original ballot will be counted.

What do voters do if they have questions or have a problem with their voting materials?

If a voter experiences problems or has questions regarding the voting process, they should contact the NMB at the number provided on the Notice of Election and an OLA staff member will assist them.

How is the winner of an election determined?

If an organization or individual receives a majority of the valid votes cast, it will be certified as the representative. If 50 percent or a majority of votes cast are for no representation, no representative will be certified.

What happens if no option receives a majority of votes cast?

If no option receives a majority of the valid votes cast, the Board shall authorize a run-off election as set forth in the NMB Rules § 1206.1 (29 CFR § 1206.1).

After the Tally FAQ

What happens after the tally?

If an organization or individual receives a majority of the valid votes cast, it will be certified as the representative. If the majority of votes cast are for no representation, no representative will be certified.

If a representation application is dismissed, does the current representative of the craft or class of employees lose its representation rights?

It depends. If an organization files an application for a craft or class that is already represented, the incumbent organization is a party in the investigation and election. If the organization which filed the application does not have an adequate showing of interest or for some other reason the application is dismissed prior to an election, the incumbent organization will remain the representative of the craft or class. If the investigation proceeds to an election and a majority of valid votes are cast for no representation, then the application is dismissed and the incumbent organization loses its representation status.

What is election interference?

The RLA states that a carrier shall not “interfere . . . influence or coerce” its employees in the choice of representative. In order to determine whether there has been interference in the election, the NMB examines whether the “laboratory conditions” essential to representation elections have been tainted. When there are allegations of election interference, the NMB examines the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether the laboratory conditions have been tainted. The NMB has found election interference where the carrier: conducts improper surveillance of employees; interrogates employees; discharges or disciplines employees; confers benefits on employees, and; solicits or collects ballots. The NMB has shortened the application bar period when organizations have solicited or collected ballots.

What should an employee do if he or she observes interference during the election period but before the ballot count?

Except in extraordinary circumstances, the NMB will investigate allegations of interference only after the ballot count. Therefore, if an employee observes conduct which may be interference during the election process, the employee should report it to the organization conducting the campaign or to the carrier, as appropriate.

What if the organization or the carrier believes that there was interference with the election process?

Written allegations of interference must be received by the NMB no later than 4 PM, Eastern Time, seven business days after the count. Responses to the allegations must be received within seven business days after the NMB receives the interference allegations. The interference allegations must state a prima facie case (evidence sufficient to establish) that laboratory conditions were tainted and must be supported by substantial evidence in the form of affidavits and documents. After receipt of the submissions, the NMB will determine if there is a prima facie case of election interference. If the NMB determines there is a prima facie case, the investigation will continue and the NMB will issue a decision. If the NMB finds interference it can order a number of actions, including a rerun election. See Manual Section 17.0 here: Representation Manual.

Other Information FAQ

What if I am already represented and I am unhappy with the organization?

The RLA does not address relationships between employees and their unions, including the payment or amount of union dues, or the representation you receive from the union in negotiations or grievances. Some questions can be answered by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Labor- Management Standards at www.dol.gov/olms/

Is the NMB involved in carrier mergers?

In a merger, the NMB will make a determination if a “single transportation system” exists based upon an application from an incumbent organization representing a craft or class on the pre-existing or merged carrier, or from any other organization or individual. If the NMB determines a “single transportation system” exists, it may order a representation election. See Manual Section 19 here: Representation Manual.

What if there is a merger of labor organizations? Will the NMB transfer certifications?

Upon request of the organizations, the NMB will transfer the certifications to the new organization absent evidence of fraud or gross abuse in the merger procedures.

If the NMB certifies an organization to represent my craft or class, do I have to join the union?

Under the RLA, a carrier and an organization may negotiate a “union shop agreement” which allows employees at least 60 days from the date of their actual employment to join the union or begin paying a fee to the organization, and limits the obligation to “join” to the payment of uniformly required dues and fees. This provision of the RLA preempts state right-to-work laws. Employees are permitted to become “agency fee objectors,” and pay only certain fees which are “germane” to the organization’s representational activities. Information on that right can be obtained from the organization. See 45 U.S.C. §152, Eleventh(c).