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

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President Joe Biden urged railway executives and union leaders to be creative and versatile to find a compromise to avoid a shutdown that would have disrupted the transport of products 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 more to acknowledge the harm that might hit families, farmers, businesses and full 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 may very well be.”

In negotiations that lasted nearly 20 hours, the Biden administration, including the president himself. together with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, to succeed in 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, within the Oval Office on the White House in Washington, September 15, 2022.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

“You might have to recollect what we averted here,” Jean-Pierre said. “This could 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, greater than 7,000 trains would have been idled, costing as much as an estimated $2 billion per day. The White House had been in talks with railroad employees’ unions and firms for several months, but negotiations hinged on the problem 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 Employees — Transportation Division, and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.

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