In what President Joe Biden hailed as a “big win,” freight rail companies and unions representing tens of thousands of workers on Thursday reached a tentative agreement that averted what would have been a supply chain-crippling strike, according to a New York Times report.
On Thursday morning, after roughly twenty hours of ongoing talks, the White House announced the verbal agreement with unions representing more than 50,000 engineers and conductors, which called it “an important win for our economy.” An estimated 30 percent of the nation's freight moves by rail.
“The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people,” Biden said in a statement announcing the deal.
“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,” he continued.
The president described the deal as “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.”
As reported by CNN Business, Biden called in personally to talk to negotiators late Wednesday night, with some sources within the unions giving credit to the president for getting the deal completed without a strike.
“We're very proud of what was accomplished,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the conductors’ union. “Everybody pulled together to make sure that we could get our members what they deserved.”
Dennis Pierce, president of the engineers’ union, said, “This is the quality of life issue we have been trying to get for our members since bargaining started.”
The new contracts are expected to provide rail employees with an immediate 14 percent raise with back pay and a 24 percent wage increase during the five years from 2020 through 2024. According to the Association of American Railroads, this includes immediate average payouts of $11,000 upon ratification. The deal still needs to be ratified by union members before it can go into effect.
“This is fantastic news for the economy,” Eric Hoplin, CEO of the National Association of Wholesale Distributors, told CNN on Thursday.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook over the last forty-eight hours, talking to distribution leaders from across the country, who were spelling out what some of the catastrophic consequences could have been to America's supply chain and the economy,” he continued.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.