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Settlement Averts Amtrak Strike Wage Hike Still Must Be Ratified; Congress Also Must Ok Rescue Plan

Mon., Nov. 3, 1997, midnight

A labor agreement reached Sunday between Amtrak and maintenance workers averted a national passenger rail strike that would have disrupted travel for hundreds of thousands.

The threat of a shutdown had hung for months over long-distance passengers nationally and daily commuters in a half-dozen major cities, just as the railroad has been fighting off bankruptcy.

The settlement gives workers “a fair and deserved (wage) increase while preserving the financial integrity of the company,” Amtrak chairman Tom Downs said.

For the agreement to hold, congressional approval is required of an Amtrak rescue package under consideration on Capitol Hill. But that package has been stalled in Congress over provisions that would relax some labor protections.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, who brought the parties together for days of talks that stretched overnight into Sunday, urged lawmakers to act quickly.

A prolonged shutdown would have forced Amtrak’s 54,000 daily passengers to find other travel and could have led to the suspension of commuter rail services for more than 500,000 people in the Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and Washington metropolitan areas.

Apart from its long-distance services, Amtrak provides urban rail commuter transportation under contract in some cities. Overall, Amtrak serves 500 communities, scores of them with no air or city-to-city bus transportation.

The tentative three-year contract gives the 2,300 members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees a wage increase each year, but it will amount to less than the annual 3 percent raise proposed earlier by mediators.

Officials refused to give details until the contract goes for ratification to workers and the Amtrak board.

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