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

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Amtrak Johnstown Train Station, Sept. 30, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa. [Andrew Harnik / AP]
Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the Amtrak Johnstown Train Station, Sept. 30, 2020, in Johnstown, Pa.

Updated September 15, 2022 at 8:22 AM ET

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.

"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."

It's still unclear what resolution was reached over the workplace attendance policies that were a sticking point for two of the 12 unions. As of yesterday they were still demanding changes to policies that penalize workers for taking unscheduled time off for medical reasons.

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. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.