I know there is keen interest on this forum on all the negotiations at various airlines currently taking place, and thought this might be interesting info to share.
Here's how the negotiation process works for airline workers, as dictated by the Railway Labor Act:
Step 1: Preparations for negotiations
Step 2: Openers
Step 3: Direct negotiations --> New contract (if not, proceed to step 4)
Step 4: Request for mediation
Step 5: Mediation --> New contract (if not, proceed to step 6)
Step 6: Impasse
Step 7: Proffer of binding arbitration
Step 7a: Binding arbitration accepted --> New contract
Step 7b: Binging arbitration rejected, proceed to step 8
Step 8: 30 day cooling-off period
Step 9: Self help (lockout/strike)
Currently, AA is on step 4, request for mediation, with all three unions, the most recent being the flight attendants. It is expected that a federal mediator will be appointed for flight attendant negotiations in mid-January. The APFA's goal is to have a new contract by May 1, 2009.
The APA, AA's pilot union, has been in negotiations for over two years, while the TWU has been in negotiations with AA for over a year. AA/TWU recently ended a series of "lightning rounds," intense negotiations over a short period of time designed to lead to an agreement. Those negotiations ended without an agreement, leading AA/TWU to seek mediation.