President Joe Biden (C), along with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh (L) and Director of Made in America at the Office of Management and Budget Celeste Drake (R), announce that rail companies and unions have reached a tentative agreement to avoid a rail strike in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo
Calling it a “win for America,” President Joe Biden on Thursday praised a tentative deal between railway companies and their unions to avert a strike that could have hampered the country’s supply chain.
In a White House news conference, Biden celebrated the agreement, which still has to be voted on by rank-and-file union members. He said the deal gives union members an average 24% pay increase over five years, improved working conditions and caps on what they have to pay out of pocket for healthcare.
“This agreement is a validation of what I have always believed: that unions and management can work together for the benefit of everyone,” Biden said. “This is a win for America. Thank you all for getting this done.”
Biden praised Labor Secretary Marty Walsh for getting involved in the negotiations. He also recognized Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for their involvement.
The president said negotiators worked 20 straight hours to hammer out an agreement to avoid a strike, which could have happened as early as Friday at the end of the federally mandated “cooling off” period. Passenger rail company Amtrak had already canceled some long-distance routes in anticipation of a strike.
Biden said the rail workers played a critical role in keeping the U.S. economy going during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as essential workers.
“They showed up so every American could keep going,” Biden said. “They worked tirelessly through the pandemic to make sure families and communities got the deliveries they needed through those difficult few years.”
Biden said the unions and the rail companies benefit from the deal.
“This is a great deal for both sides in my view,” Biden said. “This is also a victory for the railway companies. The railway companies will be able to retain and recruit workers. They will be able to operate effectively as a vital piece of our economy. They are really the backbone of the economy.”
The White House announced the deal hours before the news conference. The deadline to come up with an agreement between dozens of railroads and the unions that make up the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition was Friday. The coalition represents more than 100,000 rail workers and rail freight across the United States.
Biden had made a phone call to Walsh late on Wednesday and urged him to underscore the harm to the economy, families and businesses that a strike would bring. It was estimated previously that the strike would have cost the domestic economy $2 billion per day.
The National Carriers Conference Committee represents management at over 30 railroads and the Coordinated Bargaining Coalition is made up of a dozen rail labor unions. Five of them — smaller unions representing 21,000 workers — had previously reached new agreements with the railroads.
Thursday’s deal came after Amtrak, the nation’s largest passenger rail company, announced that it had canceled all long-distance trains nationwide due to the looming strike. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The remaining unions continued to move toward the deadline Friday without a deal. The greatest issues at the center of the dispute involved working conditions and rules that force engineers and conductors to be on call to work seven days a week. Two unions representing conductors and engineers were holding out for more paid sick time and other improved conditions.
One of the unions, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 19, had said earlier Wednesday that its members rejected a “tentative agreement” and authorized a strike. It wasn’t clear Thursday if that remains to be the case, or whether the deal announced by the White House includes the support of the IAM.
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President Joe Biden (C), Labor Secretary Marty Walsh (L) and Director of Made in America at the Office of Management and Budget Celeste Drake announce that rail companies and unions have reached a tentative agreement to avoid a rail strike in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo
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