U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh announced the agreement early on Thursday, writing that "following more than 20 consecutive hours of negotiations," the temporary deal "balances the needs of workers, businesses, and our nation's economy."
"The Biden Administration applauds all parties for reaching this hard-fought, mutually beneficial deal. Our rail system is integral to our supply chain, and a disruption would have had catastrophic impacts on industries, travelers and families across the country," Walsh said.
The Association of American Railroads estimated in a recent report that a nationwide rail service interruption would idle more than 7,000 trains, and could cost more than US$2 billion per day of a shutdown.
The nation's two biggest rail unions reached the tentative deal after hours of negotiations, following nine other unions cut deals with the companies on Wednesday. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Trainmen (BLET) and the SMART Transportation Division (SMART-TD), which comprise around half of all railroad employees, confirmed the tentative agreement.
The tentative deal includes wage increases, bonuses, with no increases to insurance copays and deductibles. It also upgrades policies regarding time off for employees - a major issue in the negotiations.
"For the first time, our unions were able to obtain negotiated contract language exempting time off for certain medical events from carrier attendance policies. Our unions will now begin the process of submitting the tentative agreement to a vote by the memberships of both unions," the union said.
"These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come," President Joe Biden said, billing the deal "an important win for our economy."