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Amtrak unions say hopeful dispute can be settled

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. railroad unions said they were heartened on Friday with the recommendations of a special presidential board for settling their long-running contract dispute with Amtrak and avoiding a strike.

An Amtrak police officer patrols inside Union Station in Washington July 7, 2005. U.S. railroad unions said they were heartened on Friday with the recommendations of a special presidential board for settling their long-running contract dispute with Amtrak and avoiding a strike. REUTERS/Shaun Heasley

The Presidential Emergency Board, in findings released by the White House on Thursday, recommended the government-subsidized passenger rail service and its unions agree to a contract similar to the deal approved by the nation’s freight railroads last April.

If those terms were approved, wages would rise by more than a third and workers would get back pay -- two big sticking points.

The board also advised against the railroad’s proposal for changing work rules, which include scheduling and work assignments.

“The Board’s recommendations should form the basis for settlement of this dispute,” said Dan Pickett, chairman of the bargaining committee representing some 7,000 workers, or half the railroad’s workforce.

The White House appointed the board in November after mediated bargaining between Amtrak and eight of its unions broke off.

The labor groups representing electricians, dispatchers, and machinists have not had new contract terms in seven years, although their old agreements remain in place.

Under federal law governing rail and airline workers, the unions are free to strike in 30 days if they and Amtrak cannot resolve their dispute. Congress could still intervene and impose terms if the two sides falter.

A strike by Amtrak workers would disrupt national passenger service as well as commuter lines serving New York and other large cities.

Amtrak officials could not immediately reached for comment.

Editing by Xavier Briand

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