Labor negotiations in the airline industry fall under the Railway Labor Act. Under this act, airline labor contracts do not expire, but instead, become amendable. To help labor and management reach agreement before a strike occurs, the act also provides a process--including possible intervention by the President--that is designed to reduce the incidence of strikes. Despite these provisions, negotiations between airlines and their unions have sometimes been contentious, and strikes have occurred. Because air transportation is such a vital link in the nation's economic infrastructure, a strike at a major U.S. airline may exert a significant economic impact on affected communities. Additionally, if an airline's labor and management were to engage in contentious and prolonged negotiations, the airline's operations--and customer service--could suffer. GAO was asked to examine trends in airline labor negotiations in the 25 years since the industry was deregulated in 1978, the impact of airline strikes on communities, and the impact of lengthy contract negotiations and nonstrike work actions (such as "sickouts") on passengers.
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