Did The White House Just Pull A Railroad Rabbit Out Of The Hat?

Last night, the country was expecting a nationwide rail strike.

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Amtrak Expects A Rail Strike
This is a story that has come together from tiny threads here and there, to loom large over the American economy within the past 48 hours, as the threat of a railroad worker strike grows ominously more real. The latest twist comes from the nation’s passenger rail carrier, Amtrak…
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This morning, the White House is announcing an agreement that avoids that nationwide rail strike.

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Railroads and union representatives had been in negotiations for 20 hours at the Labor Department on Wednesday to hammer out a deal, as there was a risk of a strike starting on Friday that could have shut down rail lines across the country. Biden made a key phone call to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh at 9 p.m. as the talks were ongoing after Italian dinner had been brought in, according to a White House official insisting on anonymity.

What resulted from the back and forth was a tentative agreement that will go to union members for a vote after a post-ratification cooling off period of several weeks.

Update:

There is some talk the rank and file could conceivably reject the contract, which is being received in some quarters as a “cramdown”

Rather than pay, rail workers have been most frustrated by the lack of flexible schedules. They will have the chance to review the White House-negotiated contract and vote on it sometime in the next week. The full text has not been released yet, though employees have shared their thoughts with FreightWaves on details that have been reported so far

Wes Ekstedt, a conductor for a Class I railroad who asked that his employer’s name not be published for fear of retribution, is cautiously optimistic about the tentative agreement. However, if rules around attendance policies don’t pass muster, he said union members will likely snub the tentative agreement. Around 78% of union members surveyed in August rejected a previous version of the agreement, which did not include time off, according to a document shared to FreightWaves. 

A rejected contract would give rail conductors and engineers the chance to legally strike again after another “cooling off” period. 

A cooling off period would likely push any strike beyond the mid-term elections, thereby sterilizing any political benefits.

If this agreement holds up, the White House will have scored a genuine political victory at a crucial time, with the 2022 midterms just around the corner, and the US economy will have avoided a cataclysmic collapse of domestic supply chains.

We shall soon see if this agreement has legs or not.