WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House could intervene in coming weeks to try to resolve contract disputes involving most union workers at the largest freight railroads.
Talks between 11 major unions and a group overseeing negotiations for CSX Corp, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and other railroads failed to reach a settlement after more than a year of bargaining, officials for both sides said on Tuesday.
Rising healthcare costs are a key sticking point in the talks.
Unions rejected binding arbitration and received approval to break off negotiations and enter a 30-day cooling off period.
If that expires with no settlement -- which is a likely scenario -- the unions could strike. But a walkout is not expected because the Obama administration would likely step in to prevent it, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.
Government intervention is permitted under the law governing railroad and airline disputes if a strike is considered potentially damaging to commerce.
At that point, the White House would appoint a presidential board to recommend contract terms. If that fails, Congress could order a resolution.
In some cases, just the threat of a presidential board prompts a settlement.
The last strikes at major railroads occurred in 1994 at Conrail and Union Pacific. They lasted one and nine days respectively.
(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Gary Hill)