Rail deal heads to unions for a vote as strike fears fade
The leaders of the two unions who had resisted a previous attempt to settle the dispute welcomed the new agreement, which includes wage hikes, a freeze on health care costs and changes to work rules.
“Our unions will now begin the process of bringing the tentative agreement to a vote by members of both unions,” according to a joint statement from Jeremy Ferguson, SMART Transportation Division President; and Dennis Pierce, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
A notable breakthrough for the unions was a change in the railways’ furlough policies, which had been a major obstacle to a deal.
“For the first time, our unions were able to secure negotiated contract language exempting time off for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies,” Ferguson and Pierce said.
The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, said in a statement: « These new contracts provide railroad employees with a 24% wage increase over the five-year period from 2020 to 2024, including including an immediate payment of an average of $11,000 upon ratification, following the recommendations of the Presidential Emergency Council.”
Negotiators had spent more than 20 hours at the Labor Department under the watchful eye of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a former union president, who arrived shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday and left before dawn Thursday.
At the White House, President Joe Biden called it “a victory for tens of thousands of railroad workers who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic” and who “will now get better pay, better working conditions and peace of mind. mind regarding their health care costs: all hard-earned.
« The deal is also a win for the railroads who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come, » he said. added in a press release.
In a 9 p.m. call to Walsh and negotiators at the table, Biden urged them to recognize the harm a strike would cause by hitting families, farmers and businesses in the event of a shutdown. « The economic impacts could have been significant, » said one white man. A House official said of Biden’s intercession.
It’s a close call for the country’s economy and – if workers voted to ratify – a major win for a Biden White House that would have been hit hard by the likely disastrous fallout.
Already, the preemptive impacts of the potential strike had begun to pile up. Amtrak announced Wednesday it would cancel all long-distance trains on Thursday and said service in several states would follow suit that night, and commuter rail lines in cities like Chicago announced plans to potentially cease. Friday service.
Amtrak quickly pivoted to try to restore some of those canceled trips within hours of the tentative agreement being publicly announced, and a Chicago-area system spokesperson said operations would ultimately not be affected.
« We were able to get their promise that the services will be running and we expect normal operations, » Metra spokeswoman Meg Thomas-Reile said of the freight companies that own the tracks.
Industry groups halted grain shipments, including corn and soybeans, and carriers ruled out dangerous and safety-sensitive shipments. US Transportation Command, the cargo and logistics arm of the military, said it was prioritizing aid to Ukraine and overseas deployments to mitigate any impact from the strike.
Any work stoppage could potentially affect every facet of American life. This includes grocery shortages, starving livestock, coal-free power plants and more, dealing a potentially huge economic blow just as inflation begins to moderate. With the midterm elections next month, any further damage to trade could have serious political ramifications for Democrats.
Eleanor Mueller, Christopher Cadelago, Tanya Snyder and Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.