DALLAS (AP) -- Shares of major freight railroads fell in afternoon trading Friday ahead of the weekend deadline for a presidential board to propose a settlement of labor talks between the industry and unions.
Separately, a federal agency deferred a ruling on a request by shippers to increase competition on routes served by only one freight railroad.
A trade group for shippers asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to write new rules to increase competition in such monopoly cases, but the board said Friday it would instead reviews arguments raised in an earlier case.
The railway labor issue could be coming to a head in the next few weeks. The presidential board faces a weekend deadline for proposing a settlement. If either side rejects the board's proposal, it would start a 30-day countdown to a possible strike or lockout.
Citigroup analyst Christian Wetherbee said previous presidential boards have favored railroads, and ratification of a contract by the United Transportation Union undercuts the position of other unions that have not settled.
One group, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, opposes a contract negotiated with railroads for stretching out pay raises and increasing workers' health care costs.
"We believe previous (presidential) board's company-leaning decisions coupled with an existing proposal which was ratified by 25 percent of the industry's workforce skews the range of possibilities in the rails' favor," Citi's Wetherbee wrote in a note to clients.
Even if a 30-day strike countdown begins, Congress or the president can step in to block it, under the Railway Labor Act, which also covers negotiations in the airline industry.
In afternoon trading Friday, railroad stocks fell more than the broader market.
Shares of Union Pacific Corp. were down $1.25, or 1.2 percent, to $100.24; CSX Corp. was off 28 cents, or 1.3 percent, at $21.57; Norfolk Southern Corp. was down $1.25, or 1.7 percent, to $72.65; and Canadian National Railway Co. was down 95 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $78.28.