Railroad companies and their labor unions reached a handshake agreement early Thursday, possibly averting a strike that threatened to further cripple the reeling U.S. economy.
The marathon talks, which began early Wednesday and were brokered by Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, led to an agreement that now goes to union members for a vote. In the meantime, the unions have agreed not to strike.
“The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people,” President Joe Biden said. “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.”
Unions involved in the talks include the powerful International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and SMART Transportation Division.
Although the White House did not reveal details of the tentative deal, the Association of American Railroads said it includes a 24% pay increase over the period covering 2020-2024, with an average $11,000 retroactive payout.
The talks came as a Friday deadline loomed. That’s when a government-imposed “cooling off” period was set to end, and when a strike could have begun.
Railroad company Union Pacific hailed the deal.
“We look forward to the unions ratifying these agreements and working with employees as we focus on restoring supply chain fluidity,” the company said in a statement.
A third of U.S. freight is moved by rail, and an interruption could cost the economy up to $2 billion per day, according to an analysis by the Association of American Railroads. Supply chain bottlenecks driven by labor shortages and worldwide government lockdowns have impacted the American economy over the past two years, leading to inflationary pressures as consumer goods fail to reach shelves.
A strike would have affected not just freight carriers, but Amtrak, which shares tracks with the haulers and had canceled long-distance routes to ensure passengers didn’t get stranded by a strike. The people carrier was restoring those routes Thursday morning.