Live Updates: Rail strike averted after Biden announces tentative deal


With the midterm elections looming and President Joe Biden vowing to be the most pro-union president in US history, negotiations between the railroad industry and union representatives have been a tense political minefield, with increasingly restless Democrats torn between the fears of close union allies and bosses. economic disruption

White House officials engaged in a double-sprint to push the negotiations forward while trying to secure contingency options for the worst-case scenario.

This is how the Biden administration averted the crisis:

Negotiations:

Biden watched the speeches closely and received regular updates in recent days.

Senior White House staffers, Cabinet officials and Biden himself worked the phones for days to try to break the impasse. But they also made it clear in discussions with industry and union representatives that their role is as a neutral arbiter, people familiar with the talks said.

Labor Sec. Marty Walsh was at the center of ongoing conversations. But despite two years of talks, increasingly heated disputes over attendance policies for engineers and managers stalled talks among the 12 largest unions involved in the talks.

For 20 hours Wednesday, Walsh met with union and freight train company representatives in an effort to break the impasse.

At this critical juncture in the negotiations, numerous statements from industry groups in nearly every critical US economic sector were released on Wednesday, detailing the dire consequences of a shutdown.

“That’s how any high-stakes negotiation goes,” said the source familiar with the White House’s approach. “All parties are always looking for leverage.”

As the marathon cross-party meeting neared its 12th hour, Biden called and emphasized the stakes.

His message was consistent with what he had delivered in private calls in recent weeks, the sources said, but there was a palpable sense of urgency about how devastating a rail shutdown would be for the country.

“Defeat was not an option here,” said a source with direct knowledge of the call. “Everybody knew the stakes, but the president really made it clear how profound and disastrous it would be for the entire country to leave without a deal.”

Eight hours later, Biden announced that he had reached a tentative agreement.

Ensuring a contingency plan

The White House engaged in intensive discussions with major shipping, trucking and air transportation players to gauge their capacity to meet freight rail disruptions in the event of a strike.

The officials stressed in the interviews that they were ready to deploy any tool that would help them.

Biden appointed retired Gen. Stephen Lyons, former head of the US Transportation Command, as port and supply chain envoy in June. He was responsible for establishing lines of communication between ocean liners and rail participants, something officials said deepened relationships within the industry, but also underscored the need for collaboration between components of the supply chain that operate almost entirely in the private sector.

Over a year of outreach with key supply chain industry groups has created clear lines of communication for the administration, which they see as critical in a dire situation.

Read the full report here.