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US Rail Com­pa­nies, Unions Reach ‘Ten­ta­tive’ Deal To Avert Strike

US President Joe Biden greets negotiators who brokered the railway labour agreement at the White House in Washington, United States, where a rail shutdown risked freezing almost 30 percent of US cargo shipments

Members of one union had rejected a tentative agreement with the biggest freight railways while three others were still bargaining.

Leading American rail companies and unions have reached a tentative deal to avert a major strike over the weekend by the railway workers, President Joe Biden has said in a statement.

White House and cabinet officials secured the deal after 20 hours of intense talks brokered by the Biden administration to prevent the shutdown that could have hit food and fuel supplies across the United States two months before crucial midterm elections.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Biden said called the deal a “big win for America” and for tens of thousands of rail workers. Thanking business and labor, the Democratic president promised more worker-company agreements in the future.

“I’m optimistic that we can do this in other fields as well,” Biden said.

“Unions and management can work together for the benefit of everyone,” Biden added.

“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,” Biden said in his statement on Thursday.

“The agreement is also a victory for railway companies 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.”

The tentative deal now goes to the unions to be voted on, Reuters news agency reported, citing an unnamed person familiar with the negotiations. Even if those votes fail, a rail shutdown that could have happened as soon as midnight on Friday has been averted for several weeks, the person said.

A rail shutdown could freeze almost 30 percent of US cargo shipments. The Association of American Railroads had warned that a strike would bring 7,000 trains to a halt, costing $2bn a day.

Biden administration officials hosted labour contract talks into the night on Wednesday aiming to secure an agreement with the unions which represent 115,000 workers.

“Moments ago, following more than 20 consecutive hours of negotiations at @USDOL, the rail companies and union negotiators came to a tentative agreement that balances the needs of workers, businesses, and our nation’s economy,” tweeted US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

Negotiations between railways, including Union Pacific, Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Kansas City Southern and a dozen unions had stretched for more than two years, leading Biden to appoint an emergency board to help break the impasse.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 13: Workers service trains in the Amtrak Car Yard south of the Loop on September 13, 2022 in Chicago
Workers service trains at Amtrak Chicago Car Yard 

Biden regularly expresses strong support for workers but is also struggling to avoid further economic damage ahead of midterm congressional elections in early November.

Voters are already worried about soaring prices in the post-pandemic economy, where supply chain issues have been a constant scourge and annual inflation has surged to a 40-year high.

Biden in July appointed an arbitration panel to facilitate the discussions and head off a work stoppage.

Farmers and retailers had warned that a strike would hit US supply chains already battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no real substitute for moving agricultural goods,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said on Wednesday. The National Retail Federation called freight rail “critical to the retail supply chain”.

“The timing coincides directly with peak shipping season for the winter holidays, and a rail strike at this juncture would be just one more significant, inflationary shock to an economy that is already reeling,” warned NRF CEO Matthew Shay before Biden’s announcement.


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