Biden pushed railways, unions to ‘be creative,’ White House says

Railroad strike averted after tentative deal reached with unions and carriers

President Joe Biden urged railway executives and union leaders to be creative and flexible in finding a compromise to avoid a shutdown that could have disrupted the transport of goods across the U.S., White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“The president’s message — it was very clear — we must get a deal done,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at a press briefing Thursday. “He pushed them once again to recognize the harm that would hit families, farmers, businesses and entire communities if there was a shutdown. He asked them to be creative, to be flexible, meet the others halfway as well, and he emphasized how significant the economic impacts could be.”

In negotiations that lasted nearly 20 hours, the Biden administration, including the president himself. along with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, to reach a deal before the Friday deadline.

U.S. President Joe Biden greets negotiators who brokered the railway labor agreement after U.S. railroads and unions secured a tentative deal to avert a rail shutdown, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, September 15, 2022.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

“You have to remember what we averted here,” Jean-Pierre said. “This would have been devastating for our economy, devastating for our supply chains.”

About 40% of the nation’s long-distance trade is moved by rail. If the unions had gone on strike, more than 7,000 trains would have been idled, costing up to an estimated $2 billion per day. The White House had been in talks with railroad workers’ unions and companies for several months, but negotiations hinged on the issue of unpaid sick time.

Tentative agreements reached early Thursday morning affected about 60,000 employees who collectively are represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.