Working with the RLA

Fly Now - Grieve Later

As members of an airline Union, we work under a Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) governed by the RLA. The intent of the RLA is to permit the unimpeded flow of commerce.  Under normal conditions, both parties are required to use the grievance process to resolve disputes and are not supposed to engage in "self-help" unless released by the National Mediation Board. An outgrowth of these basic concepts has resulted in a work rule commonly referred to as: "fly now - grieve later."

While not specifically mentioned in the RLA it is, nevertheless, a vital component of it. In addition to being potentially viewed as self-help, failing to follow this rule may also be construed as insubordination. Throughout the history of the RLA, the concept of "fly now - grieve later" has been repeatedly tested and consistently applied.

Are You Refusing to Fly?

This question raises great concern for most crewmembers. With the uttering of these five words, it may seem that your career is suddenly left hanging in the balance. You may find it difficult to hear yourself think above the sound of the alarm bells going off in your head. Unfortunately, this is a serious question that deserves serious consideration before you answer and answer you must.  Depending on your response, very serious disciplinary action could ensue.

One of the most common applications of this rule occurs during the issuance and acceptance of flight assignments. Outside of a very narrow set of exceptions, once a flight has been assigned to you, it becomes your responsibility to perform that work. If you fail to accept the assignment or fail to perform the work, such behavior could be interpreted as being insubordinate and expose you to disciplinary actions by your employer. Insubordination is a serious offense and, depending on the circumstances, such disciplinary actions could be severe.

What Are the Narrow Exceptions?

An employee need not immediately obey an order or rule if he or she (a) reasonably believes it to be immoral or criminal; (b) reasonably believes that obedience would place the employee or others in imminent danger of serious harm; or (c) would suffer immediate and substantial harm and would lack any satisfactory remedy after the fact. Even in these cases, however, disobedience will be excused only if the employee has no other feasible way to resolve the dispute. Thinking that you can just hang your hat on any of these exceptions and things will all be okay, would also be unwise. If citing one of these exceptions, you refuse to work, the burden of justifying your actions lies with you. Even if an arbitrator later rules in your favor, and they rarely do, it may take years to reach a decision and you could be find yourself unemployed in the meantime.

Please note: issues of pay and days off are covered by your CBA and do not fall within the narrow exceptions to the "fly now - grieve later " rule.

How Do I Protect Myself?

Here are a few suggestions that may keep you out of trouble so that you can continue your employment: 

If the issue that confronts you is purely a contractual problem: Fly Now and Grieve Later. If you feel the contract has been violated then perform the work, have an informal discussion with your Chief Pilot about it, and if you can't reach a resolution then file a grievance.

If you feel there's a problem: Get Advice. Speak with your Chief Pilot about it. Take notes about what was discussed, when it was discussed, and with whom. Explain the situation and keep the emotion out of it. Having this discussion is exercising due diligence and it provides you limited protections. If your Chief Pilot still tells you to do the work, you are obligated to do so. When there is time, also speak with a Union Representative. There may be some insight that you previously did not consider. If the advice of the Union Representative differs from the Chief Pilot, have them speak to each other. Together, they may be able to reach a rational solution to the problem. If the issue is one of FAR interpretation, remember that crew schedulers and chief pilots don't want an FAR violation any more than you do.

Don't Leave a Question Mark Behind. The question: "Are you refusing to fly?" is usually asked because there is still a question in the mind of the Crew Scheduler or Chief Pilot as to whether or not you are accepting the assignment. Much of this can be avoided by accepting the assignment and then exploring the issues and problems afterwards. A clear statement in the beginning like: "Thanks for letting me know, please consider me notified of the assignment," will go a long way towards eliminating such confusion.

As Union Members, we were always disheartened when other members found themselves in trouble because they didn't fully understand what was expected of them. We hope that by discussing these issues, we may be able to prevent these troubles from happening in the future.