President Joe Biden announced a tentative railway labor deal early Thursday to avert a national rail strike that threatened to shut a major segment of the U.S. transportation network.
The deadline for an agreement was midnight Friday morning. “The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people,” Biden said in a statement.
The last-minute deal avoids massive disruptions to the flow of key goods and commodities around the country. About 40% of the nation’s long distance trade is moved by rail. If the unions had gone on strike, more than 7,000 trains would have been idled, costing up to an estimated $2 billion per day.
“It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years.”
The new agreement would improve rail workers’ pay, working conditions and give them “peace of mind around their health care costs,” Biden said. He thanked railroad unions and companies for negotiating “in good faith.”
The White House had been in talks with railroad workers’ unions and companies for several months, but negotiations were hung up over unpaid sick time.
The new contracts provide rail employees with a 24% wage increase during the five year period from 2020 through 2024, including immediate average payouts of $11,000 upon ratification, according to the Association of American Railroads. All tentative agreements are subject to ratification by the unions’ membership.
Tentative agreements have been reached with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, which collectively represent approximately 60,000 employees, the Association of American Railroads said in a press release.
“I thank the unions and rail companies for negotiating in good faith and reaching a tentative agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy,” Biden said in a statement. Norfolk Southern and other railroads had been ramping down operations to prioritize critical shipments.
On Wednesday, Amtrak announced it would cancel all long distance trains starting Thursday since many of its railways are maintained by freighters. Thursday morning, Amtrak said it was working to restore the canceled trains and reaching out to impacted customers to accommodate them.
Negotiators from railroad carriers and unions met in Labor Secretary Marty Walsh’s office Wednesday as the sides tried to negotiate a deal ahead of Friday’s strike deadline.