Amtrak Deal Averts Strike

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Amtrak reached a deal with nine labor unions, averting a possible strike at the end of this month, the passenger railroad announced Friday.

The deal averts not only passenger rail disruptions but commuter chaos in many East Coast suburbs where short-distance trains run on Amtrak infrastructure.

"Investing in the railroad comes in many forms, and one of the best ways is to invest in its people, which we've done with this tentative agreement," Amtrak president and CEO Alex Kummant said in a statement. "We have averted a possible strike that could have had a crippling effect on the lives of millions of Americans."

Details of the tentative agreement will not be released until it is ratified by affected union members in the next several weeks, according to a statement from Amtrak.

But people familiar with the labor agreement, speaking on condition of anonymity because the details had not been formally announced, said it adopts the recommendations of a presidential emergency board report issued Dec. 30. The board recommended Amtrak grant back wages to its workers, and the report triggered a 30-day countdown until a strike became legal.

There has never been a strike in Amtrak's 36-year history.

The dispute, which had continued despite years of unsuccessful mediation, involved about 10,000 employees whose last contract ended Dec. 31, 1999.

Amtrak, which depends heavily on federal subsidies, was concerned about how it would afford the back wages, which would average nearly $13,000 per employee. The railroad had offered to give each worker a lump signing bonus of $4,500 instead of back pay.

An Amtrak spokesman had said the back pay would cost Amtrak about $150 million more than what the company had offered.