WH Announces Tentative Deal to Avert Rail Strike

By Susan Jones | September 15, 2022 | 5:43am EDT
A mile-long Union Pacific freight train near the north shore of the Salton Sea as viewed on May 10, 2022 near Mecca, California. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
A mile-long Union Pacific freight train near the north shore of the Salton Sea as viewed on May 10, 2022 near Mecca, California. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - At the U.S. Labor Department, marathon talks lasted all day Wednesday and well into Thursday morning, ahead of a possible freight rail strike on Friday.

Union representatives and railway company executives had reached an impasse on quality of life issues -- sick leave foremost among the concerns of union workers.

Around 5 o'clock this Thursday morning, the White House released a statement in President Biden's name, saying a "tentative agreement" has been reached to avert a strike.

Union members must ratify the agreement before it takes effect.

The statement said the tentative deal "is an important win for our economy and the American people. 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.

"These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned. 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 unions complained that "our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of worldwide pandemic. No working-class American should be treated with this level of harassment in the workplace for simply becoming ill or going to a routine medical visit."

Biden thanked the unions and rail companies for "negotiating in good faith and reaching a tentative agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy."

Thirty percent of U.S. freight shipments move by rail. Trucks transport the rest, and they could not make up the shortfall if the freight trains stopped running.

Before the White House announcement, Amtrak canceled all long-distance trains, which use freight tracks, because of the anticipated strike.

Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told Fox News on Wednesday that "a strike would not be good" for the economy -- or for President Biden, who is very proud of his pro-union credentials.

"I think, for the president and this administration, they have been very pro-labor, and they are now not wanting to anger their labor allies, but they also understand that any kind of strike or lockout would be very detrimental to the fragile state of the economy," Chao said.

"So, I think there's still a chance that this administration might be able to persuade their labor allies to be a little bit more cooperative right before the November elections. But I think the specter of some kind of a strike is fairly -- I would say more than 50/50. I don't want to put odds. But I think it's -- it's pretty strong.

"But I do not think that the strike will last very long."

As it turns out, the Biden administration apparently has persuaded the unions to cooperate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday that instead of having Congress force a settlement on the rail unions, "I would rather see negotiations prevail so that there is no need for any actions from Congress."

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