A strike that could have stopped freight and passenger trains across the country appears to have been averted.
At the end of a marathon 20-hour negotiating session, the White House announced early Thursday that an agreement in principle had been reached between the railway companies and the unions representing conductors and engineers.
“This agreement is validation – validation of what I have always believed. Unions and management can work together, can work together for the benefit of all,” President Biden said, calling the deal a victory for America and for the railroad workers who worked tirelessly. through the pandemic to deliver goods.
Union members still have to vote to ratify the deal before it is finalized. A vote is not expected for at least two weeks.
The parties had been negotiating the contract without resolution for several years and faced a deadline of 12:01 a.m. Friday, the end of a “cooling off period.”
Biden called for talks at 9 p.m. Wednesday night to urge the groups to “be flexible, be creative, get a deal done,” an official said. At 2 a.m. Thursday, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh called to say they had reached an agreement.
Already this week, freight rail companies had halted shipments of hazardous materials, including chlorine to water treatment plants and chemicals for fertilizers, not wanting such goods to be left unattended in the event of strike.
Amtrak said in a statement that it is working to quickly reinstate canceled trains and contacting affected customers to accommodate the earliest available departures. Yesterday Amtrak announced that it was canceling all of its long-distance trains due to the threat of a strike.
The National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents the nation’s freight railroads, said: “The tentative agreements announced today follow the recommendations of the President’s Emergency Council on August 16…which include a 24% salary increase over the five-year period from 2020 to 2024 — with a 14.1% salary increase effective immediately — and five annual lump sum payments of $1,000.”
The deal also includes changes to workplace attendance policies that workers said were too punitive. Under the tentative agreement, workers will be able to take time off for medical treatment without facing discipline, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Officers and the SMART Transportation Division confirmed in a joint statement.
Those attendance policies had become the main sticking point as the deadline for a deal approached.
In an interview with NPR, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the proposed deal will not only bring wage increases and quality of life improvements for workers, but will also help the railroads.
“It means a way to attract and retain great workers,” Buttigieg said. “That means avoiding the disruptions that might have accompanied any kind of shutdown or slowdown.”