A tentative deal with two major rail unions early Thursday morning was reached, averting the threat of an imminent strike hat would more than likely led to sever economic consequences and supply chain disruptions.
The Biden administration officials intervened and met with two rail unions, including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, on Wednesday into early Thursday to reach an agreement before the Friday deadline, the first day that workers could legally walk out.
According to a joint statement by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and SMART Transportation Division unions, the parties successfully reached an agreement Thursday morning.
The main subject of the projected strike was not over pay, even though the negotiations resulted in a 24% pay raise over the next five years, a $5,000 annual bonus and provided an exemption from usual attendance policies for medical purposes, according to the joint statement.
The two aforementioned rail unions are two of the largest rail unions and said the deal provides wins for workers that weren’t included in the previous contract proposals.
Here are the five major things that the agreement provides, according to the unions:
The aforementioned pay raises: 24% over 5 years, back pay, and an annual $5,000 bonus. These terms were similar to those recommended by a White House-appointed board on the matter last month.
Time off for medical appointments: Workers would be allowed to take off for medical appointments without being penalized, a strong point wanted and one that held up negotiations, and would not ratify any agreement that didn’t address sick time.
More time off: Workers will be provided voluntarily assigned days off and given one additional paid day off. Rail workers have complained about widespread fatigue and attendance policies that complicate their ability to take time off for any reason.
Block health care hikes: The agreement blocks increases to health care copays and deductibles, a big issue for workers. Unions said that the measure took 20 hours negotiation to secure.
Two-person crews: The deal protects two-person crews for the indefinite future, another top priority for workers who said they faced increased safety risks by being forced to operate trains solo.
The deal will now go to union members for a vote. Workers had pledged to vote down a contract based on the residential board’s guidance because it didn’t address their concerns about unsafe working conditions and insufficient sick leave.
The two unions which represent nearly 60,000 rail workers said in a statement, “We listened when our members told us that a final agreement would require improvements to their quality of life as well as economic gains.”
GOP senators on Wednesday attempted to pass a resolution that would have enacted the board’s terms, but Democrats blocked it, arguing that the parties should have time to negotiate a deal.
President Biden said in a statement early Thursday, “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.”
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