An American Railroad employment deal was struck on sandwiches and baked ziti

An American Railroad employment deal was struck on sandwiches and baked ziti

Written by David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh kept railroads and unions at the negotiating table for 20 hours, fueled by sandwiches and baked ziti, to strike a labor deal early Thursday.

In an interview with President Joe Biden’s insistence and the US economy in the balance, he said, there was no room for failure and no time for a traditional style of negotiation with rounds of document exchanges.

“I wanted to get this deal done,” said Walsh, the former Boston mayor who canceled a trip to Ireland and a speech to Irish lawmakers to mediate the talks.

After more than two years of negotiations, railroads and unions faced a 12:01 a.m. deadline Friday to come up with a contract and avoid a rail closure. It would cost the US economy $2 billion a day by cutting vital goods, shutting down factories, and crippling industries and travelers.

Conversations began in a conference room and eventually ended in Walsh’s office for more than five hours in the early hours.

Walsh said both sides were willing to compromise but had strong views. He wasn’t sure they would come to an agreement.

“Unions have been very persistent in what they need and companies have been very persistent in what they are not going to give up,” Walsh said. “There were some points where I said to everyone, ‘Let’s remember we’re trying to get a contract and just keep going and coming back.'”

When the two parties arrived early Wednesday, they outlined an agreement on business rules. β€œWe were able to get it done really quickly,” Walsh said.

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Walsh fed side sandwiches and coffee for lunch on Wednesdays and then ziti bread from a local restaurant for dinner. It wasn’t fancy, but it was good,” Walsh said. “During dinner, there was a lot of negotiations going on, so people kind of ate because they had a moment.”

Perseverance paid off. After midnight, the two sides returned to Walsh with a settlement over a thorny issue – the union’s demand to make major changes to workers’ personal days on precarious schedules.

The final hurdle was health care, and they eventually agreed to maintain a cap on staff costs.

“I didn’t celebrate until after I put my initials on the document,” Walsh said. He called White House National Economic Council Director Brian Dees to give him the good news early Thursday morning.

It’s a good contract for both workers and employers, Walsh said. He urged the two sides to start the next contract talks early to avoid a repeat of last-minute negotiations.

Biden met with government officials, railroad leaders and unions at the White House after the deal was announced and praised Walsh for his “tireless work around the clock.”

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