Takahiro Mori traveled more than 12 hours from Tokyo to Pittsburgh to secure what he hoped would be one of the biggest-ever steel mergers. On the other side of the table from the Nippon Steel executive sat the one man who now appeared to have the fate of the $14 billion deal in his hands: David McCall, head of the United Steelworkers union.

The Japanese bid to take over U.S. Steel had widely been viewed as a slam-dunk offer — the only sticking point was winning over the union and, in turn, its political leverage. Mori assured McCall that Nippon Steel would offer commitments to invest more than $1 billion in the iconic American company while also promising no idling of plants and, most importantly to its workers, no immediate layoffs.

After extending his olive branch, Mori was met with eight minutes of silence as the union read the fine print before a reluctant McCall even responded. The talks dissolved in less than an hour, according to people familiar with the discussions.