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Rail strike over disability benefits averted

January 22, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A nationwide rail strike was narrowly averted Tuesday when industry and union leaders agreed to continue discussions about a proposed change in disability benefits.

Attorneys for the railroads were already at federal court to seek a restraining order when several unions agreed to delay a threatened walkout.

At issue is a Dec. 18 vote by the federal Railroad Retirement Board to change the 50-year-old guidelines for determining eligibility for disability pay. The change was proposed by the railroads.

Several unions had threatened to shut down the rails Wednesday morning.

``Today’s agreement in principle will at least put to rest for the time being the disputes arising out of this disability issue,″ said Ed Wytkind, executive director of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department.

Wytkind said the unions were satisfied that the railroads would collaborate with labor about any changes to disability benefits.

Attorneys from the National Railroad Labor Conference, which handles collective bargaining on behalf of freight railroads, met late Tuesday with union presidents representing train operators, ticket takers and signalmen.

``What the railroads and the unions would very much like is to have a consensus reached,″ said Joanne Moorhead, the conference counsel.

The Railroad Retirement Board consists of three members appointed by the president, one from labor, one from the public sector and one from the railroads. Its decisions are reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget and open to public comment.

Wytkind said a 1946 amendment to the Railroad Retirement Act requires the board to implement changes to occupational disability standards ``with cooperation of employers and employees.″