President Barack Obama Friday appointed a special board to help resolve a 3 1/2-year contract battle between the Long Island Rail Road and the eight unions representing most of its workers.

The executive order, issued Thursday, creates a Presidential Emergency Board "to investigate and report on the disputes" between the LIRR and the labor organizations representing about 5,600 of its workers.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The board, whose members were not named, will hear both sides of the dispute and deliver a nonbinding recommendation. If no resolution is reached by July, the unions could go on strike.

"Many steps remain to resolve these issues over the next several months, and we remain hopeful we can negotiate a new contract with our labor unions," LIRR spokesman Salvatore Arena said.

Anthony Simon, general chairman of the LIRR's largest labor organization, the United Transportation Union, declined to comment.

At the center of the impasse between the LIRR and its unions is a demand by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that all its union workers agree to a three-year freeze in labor costs. Workers could get raises during that time, but only if they were paid for through other givebacks. Unions have so far balked at the proposal.