Reuters is reporting that the President has signed an executive order that would create an emergency board to help resolve the contract dispute between 11 unions and the largest U.S railroads, including Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen representing nearly 25,000 workers out of the total group 80,000 workers is the only major union to have authorized a walkout. Had the White House not intervened, a walkout could have begun on Friday.
"It's in our national interest to make sure our freight rail system runs smoothly, since a disruption could affect businesses across the country and cause unnecessary damage to our already-fragile economy," Obama said in a statement.
Reuters says the National Mediation Board had overseen rail talks for more than a year and had already notified the White House that mediation had failed. That cleared the way for possible union strikes at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Friday unless the Obama administration acted to head them off.
Government intervention is permitted under federal law in railroad and airline disputes if an impasse or potential strike is considered damaging to commerce.