U.S. Rail Strike Averted, but Labor Deal Faces Tough Union Votes

President Joe Biden’s administration secured a tentative deal on Thursday to avert a railway strike that could have wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy, but union members angered by tough work conditions have yet to ratify the agreement.

Workers have gone three years without a raise amid the contract dispute, with talks stalling over attendance, sick time and scheduling issues. Only two of 12 unions – representing less than 10% of the workforce – are known to have ratified new contracts with freight railways.

The unions, including two large groups representing around 60,000 workers, will need to persuade their members to vote for Thursday’s deal. That might be a tough sell, labor experts warned.

“There’s a lot of anger among the members of these two unions because they feel, after being essential workers during the COVID pandemic, they were getting screwed on the attendance policy and getting punished for taking sick leave,” said Seth Harris, a professor of Northeastern University and former Biden administration official focused on labor and the economy.