The White House has reached a tentative deal to avert a railroad strike that threatened to cause massive disruption across the United States, President Joe Biden announced Thursday.
Business groups and politicians were increasingly concerned that a strike could cripple the country’s supply chains and disrupt passenger services.
The tentative deal will represent relief for Biden ahead of the midterms, after days of growing fears that a dispute over the union contract remains unresolved.
“For the American people, the hard work done to reach this agreement in principle means that our economy can avoid the significant damage that any shutdown would have caused,” Biden said in a statement.
The president said the deal was also “a victory for tens of thousands of railroad workers who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic.”
“These railway workers will benefit from better pay, better working conditions and peace of mind about their health care costs: all hard-earned,” he said.
The president said it was also a victory 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”.
The statement did not specify the details of the agreement reached.
A source close to the negotiations described the “draft” wording as “a standard part of the ratification process”, which will now go to union members for a vote. As part of the deal reached last night, there will be a multi-week ‘cooling off’ period to ensure that if a vote does not pass for whatever reason, there will still be no immediate shutdown. of the rail.
Biden made “a crucial call” around 9 p.m. ET last night to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and negotiators representing unions and railroad companies, the source said.
The two sides met at the Department of Labor in Washington all day yesterday, with 20 hours of negotiations finally resulting in the tentative agreement, the source added.
Railway strike could have had ‘catastrophic impacts’
Walsh said in a Tweeter that a disruption of the rail system would have had “catastrophic impacts on industries, travelers and families across the country”.
A 30-day moratorium suspending the possibility of a strike was due to end on Friday for members of the two largest freight railroad unions in the United States, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, or BLET, and the transportation division SMART.
As a sign of what was to come, Amtrak had preemptively canceled three long-distance rail routes running on lines operated by freight railroads.
The two unions say quality of life issues – primarily carrier scheduling practices that leave many workers on call 24/7, every week of the year – remain a major obstacle to a agreement and that they are ready to strike.
“The railroads are using our country’s shippers, consumers and supply chain as pawns in an effort to trick our unions into giving in to their contract demands knowing our members would never accept them,” said union president Jeremy Ferguson of SMART. -TD and Dennis Pierce of BLET, said in a joint statement.
As of early Thursday morning, neither the unions nor the railroads appeared to have commented on the tentative agreement.
NBC News has reached out to BLET, SMART-TD, TCU and IAM District 19 for comment.
Eli M. Rosenberg contributed.