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Biden says a tentative railway labor deal has been reached, averting a strike

caption: Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Amtrak Johnstown Train Station, Sept. 30, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa.
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Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Amtrak Johnstown Train Station, Sept. 30, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa.

A strike that could have halted both freight and passenger trains across the country seems to have been averted.

After a marathon negotiating session lasting 20 hours, the White House announced early Thursday that a tentative agreement had been reached between rail companies and the unions representing conductors and engineers.

Updated September 15, 2022 at 8:22 AM ET

"These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned," said President Biden in a statement, calling the deal a win for rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to deliver goods to American families.

Union members still have to vote to ratify the agreement before it is finalized.

The parties had been negotiating the contract without resolution for several years and were facing a 12:01 am Friday deadline, the end of a "cooling off period."

Already this week, freight rail companies had halted shipments of hazardous materials, including chlorine to water treatment plants and chemicals for fertilizers, not wanting those goods to be left unattended should a strike be called.

Amtrak said in a statement it is working to quickly restore canceled trains and reaching out to impacted customers to accommodate on first available departures. Yesterday, Amtrak announced that it was canceling all of its long-distance trains starting Thursday due to the threatened strike.

The National Carriers' Conference Committee, which represents the nation's freight railroads said: "The tentative agreements announced today follow the August 16 recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board...which include a 24% wage increase during the five-year period from 2020 through 2024 — with a 14.1% wage increase effective immediately — and five annual $1,000 lump sum payments."

The deal also includes changes to workplace attendance policies that workers found overly punitive. Under the tentative agreement, workers will be able to take time off for medical care without facing discipline, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division confirmed in a joint statement.

Those attendance policies had become the major sticking point as the deadline for a deal neared.

The two sides sat down for a meeting with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh that went all day and deep into the night. Shortly after 5 a.m. Thursday, the White House and the Association of American Railroads released statements announcing the tentative deal. [Copyright 2022 NPR]

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