September 15, 2022 |

A nationwide railroad strike was averted after 20-hours of negotiations that began at 9 a.m. Wednesday led to an overnight deal.

Time-off benefits for short-staffed workers that have been at the heart of the dispute are reportedly addressed in the tentative deal. Railroads have cut their workforces in recent years, putting strain on remaining crews.

While union bosses agreed to the new offer from companies in the overnight negotiations, the deal must be ratified by rank-and-file workers.

Even if the vote fails, another cooling off period of several weeks would follow before workers could strike. The White House was involved in the negotiations as a strike would aggravate nagging chain shortages across the country and worsen inflationary pressure that has been driving up prices for consumers over the last 18 months.

With the strike set to begin at midnight tonight, Amtrak passenger trains already had been affected. Seven long-distance routes were cancelled yesterday. Amtrak workers are not involved in the labor dispute but Amtrak operates almost all of its 21,000 route miles on track owned, maintained, and dispatched by freight railroads.

The five-year deal, retroactive to 2020, includes the 24 percent raises and $5,000 in bonuses that a Presidential Emergency Board recommended this summer. Railroads also agreed to ease their strict attendance policies to address some of the unions’ concerns about working conditions. Details of the terms are still unclear.

If railroad workers do walk off the job, Wyoming would be especially hurt. Powder River coal mines would be forced to cut back production. The ripple effect would expand from there. Energy prices would rise and the already precarious stability of the energy grid would be put on edge with coal deliveries at a standstill.

Other Wyoming raw products, including trona, oil and grain shipments, will also face delivery obstacles.

The railroads’ last national contract with their unions expired in 2020. The two sides have been in a two-year cooling off period after the unions rejected the last offer.

The last nationwide railroad strike was in 1992. It lasted three days and cost the country more than $3 billion. The Association of American Railroads estimates a strike now would cost $2 billion a day.

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