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Congressional leaders seek end to rail impasse

Reid talks to reporters about the senate's vote on debt ceiling legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
Reid talks to reporters about the senate's vote on debt ceiling legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate introduced measures on Thursday that would prevent a possible work stoppage by railroad freight engineers and other workers next week.

The proposals were different in scope but sought to head off an impasse on December 6 involving rail unions representing close to 50,000 workers and negotiators for four major railroads.

A resolution proposed by Senate Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, would extend the negotiating deadline for two months, until February 8.

A resolution introduced by House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica would require unions to accept the contract recommendations of a presidential board which, under federal law, was created to produce a settlement.

Most of the 13 unions representing 130,000 workers initially involved in bargaining agreed to contracts before and after the appointment of the Presidential Emergency Board, which became effective in October after mediated talks broke down.

Government intervention is permitted under federal law in railroad and airline disputes if an impasse or potential strike is considered damaging to commerce.

The talks involve workers for CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe -- owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Increased healthcare costs have been a sticking point in the talks, which still involve three labor groups, including locomotive engineers.

Congress has intervened to end railroad disputes previously.

(Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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