Two labor unions that had been holding out from reaching an agreement with railroads came to a tentative settlement with major railroads last night. This action will avert a December 6 strike that would have undoubtedly caused congressional action.  The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the American Train Dispatchers Association agreed to terms.  The only one of the 13 unions without a deal, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, has agreed to extend the cooling-off time period and continue talks through February 8, 2012.  These three unions represent 39 percent of the 132,000 workers in the contract deadlock that has lasted for two years.

“In a tough economy, these agreements offer a terrific deal for rail employees,” A. Kenneth Gradia, chairman of the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (the railroads’ bargaining group), said in a statement.  “They lock in well-above market wage increases of more than 20 percent over six years, far exceeding recent union settlements in other industries.”

“I applaud all the stakeholders who worked to avert a work stoppage that would have hurt our nation’s economy just as the holiday season gets under way,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.  Reid and House Speaker John Boehner had been poised to act as soon as today to avert the strike.  The votes are now “happily moot,” according to a Senate aid.

“A shutdown of the nation’s railways could cost our nation’s economy an estimated $2 billion per day and is unacceptable to the American people, particularly at a time when our economy is already struggling to create jobs,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Canton (R-VA) said prior to last night’s positive action.

Congress has acted on rail labor disputes 14 times in the last 85 years since the Railway Labor Act was enacted.  Recommendations from Presidential Emergency Board have been enacted one-half of these times, and lawmakers have forced binding arbitration five times.