Biden Announces Tentative Deal Struck to Prevent Rail Workers Strike
The rail workers’ strike would have cost an estimated $2 billion a dayб according to a rail industry trade group. It was set to begin on Friday.
President Biden announced on Wednesday that a tentative deal has been reached between rail worker unions and freight rail companies, averting a potentially disastrous strike that was set to begin on Friday.
At the heart of the disagreement was sick leave for rail workers. Currently, rail workers are allotted zero days of guaranteed sick days, paid or unpaid. Unions were trying to gain 15 days of paid sick days but were unable to secure that concession. Instead, they will now be able to attend preventive medical care and will not be punished for using unpaid leave for medical procedures or emergencies.
The deal also includes previously agreed to pay increases, including a 24% compounded increase in pay over five years, applied retroactively to 2020, and an annual $1,000 bonus over the next five years.
That workers did not get paid sick leave is a win for the rail companies. However, the new attendance policy is a significant upgrade over what workers would have gotten if the Burr-Wicker resolution had passed and forced the union to accept the deal outlined by the Presidential Emergency Board commissioned by Biden in August.
15 September 2022, 01:53 GMT
The deal also freezes the amount workers have to contribute to their healthcare plan, ensuring rates do not rise until after the next round of negotiations.
Before the deal can be ratified, it must be approved by the rank and file members of the unions. However, rail workers have said they will not strike while the vote is being counted.
Had the strike gone forward, passenger trains would have been affected as well as freight trains because passenger trains often run on rails owned by freight companies. In preparation for the strike, Amtrak canceled multiple long-distance trains to avoid stranding customers during the strike. With the deal tentatively reached, they are now resuming passenger train service nationwide.
Biden’s labor secretary, Martin J. Walsh, mediated the negotiations for 20 hours on Wednesday, starting in the morning. He called Biden at 2 am to tell him he thought a deal had been reached, and Biden announced the deal at 5 am.
Biden thanked the negotiators on both sides while announcing the deal in front of the White House Wednesday morning.
“This agreement is a big win for America,” Biden said. “This is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers and for their dignity and the dignity of their work, it is a recognition of that. During the early, dark, uncertain days of the pandemic, they showed up so every American could keep going.”