The White House, in what it called its final offer, yesterday unveiled a six-point program designed to end the nationwide shutdown of independent truckers.
The plan represents "all that can be done by the Executive Branch and the Interstate Commerce Commission on an immediate basis to help the truckers," according to White House aide Jack Watson. The plan was worked out over the last several days in all day meetings with representatives of various trucking groups.
The White House action late yesterday only came after the administration had already set up eight "priority transportation corridors" across the country in which it said state and local police would help "facilitate the safe delivery of essential commodities." (See map for specific routes involved.)
Watson said the special routes were necessary because the strike-related violence had "caused problems in some areas of the country with respect to delivery of essential commodities to market places."
Watson later announcement of the government offer to independent truckers was met with mixed reviews from representatives of several independent truckers groups, prompting Watson to say "since there is no one group representing all of the independent truckers of this country, it is impossible to obtain a single negotiated agreement."
The new 6-point proposal called for:
Continuation of the ICC automatic pass-through of diesel fuel cost increases by the truckers to shippers. In its new weekly check of diesel prices, the ICC ordered that truckers could increase their charges 7 percent over charges two weeks ago in the latest boost reflecting the 41 percent increase in the price of diesel fuel since January.
A commitment by President Carter to support federal legislation establishing uniform national weight and length standards for trucks during the present fuel emergency. Presently there are a dozen states with tougher laws that would be eased, allowing all trucks to travel through all states.
A pledge of administration support for equitable allocation of available fuel supplies.
A coordinated federal/state program to insure safety on the highways for all truckers.
The creation of a federal/state working party to address the continuing problems facing independent truckers.
The creation of a working group to specifically address the problems of exempt (unregulated) truckers.
After meeting with Watson and Vice President Mondale, who told the truckers he had the endorsement of President Carter on the six point plan, six truckers group representatives who were in the White House meetings told reporters that they would bring the proposales back to their groups.
They said, however, that they would not recommend acceptance or rejection of the plan, because independent truckers acted on their own and each would have to decide for himself.
One representative, Robert Somers of Colorado, said, however, "Speaking for myself, I will go back to work. I think we would be foolish to turn this down."
But two other prominent independent trucker spokesmen, William Hill and Mike Parkhurst, were critical of the White House offer and said they would urge their groups of truckers to keep their rigs off the road. Both men had attended earlier White House meetings.
"Watson didn't persuade me that the White House has been responsive enough to tuckers' needs," Parkhurst said. "The net result is that we're not going back to work."
The truckers' strike continued to slow down deliveries of meat, produce and other items at the wholesale level in the Washington metropolitan area, with wholesale price increases beginning to appear as well.
"We still have some trucks that are not coming into the market on time," said Gary Lee, executive director of the Maryland Wholesale Food Center Authority. Lee also said that "a premium is being charged to transport produce right now."
The biggest shipping price increases have occurred in deliveries from the west, said Buzz Berman, president of a Baltimore produce company. Shipping costs for lettuce from California have climbed to about $6 from a pre-strike cost of $3, he said.
Washington's two largest supermarket chains continued to say yesterday that the strike has had no major impact on their operations. "It's never really impacted this area of the country," said Barry Scher of Giant Foods. "Our only trouble has been occasional late arrivals," he said. "We have no shortage of stocks and don't anticipate any."
In the only reported incidence of violence in the truck strike in the Washington-Baltimore area, four independent truckers were arrested yesterday after they slashed two front tires and ruined the radiator and grill of a tractor trailer parked at a truck stop a Route 40 in Baltimore County, Maryland state police said.
Police said an unidentified 22-year-old driver from Tuscaloosa, Ala., reported the damage to state police and gave a description of two cars leaving the truck stop. Police en route to the truck stop encountered the cars and stopped them. Four men in the two cars were arrested after the police found two hanguns, a knife and two Molotov cocktails in one of the cars.
Warren A. Senez, 45, of White Marsh, Md., and his 21-year-old son, Terry Lee Senez of Alexandria, were charged with mallicious destruction. John C. Baur Jr., 51 of Parkville, Md., and William A. Singleton, 44, of Essex, were charged with handgun possession, possession of Molotov cocktails, possession of a handgun with the serial number removed and malicious destruction.
But there was increasing evidence across the country that the strike was waning. Truck traffic and the movement of food was reported on the increase, the trucker blockades at oil terminals and food distribution centers were, for the most part, dismantled.
There were return-to-work calls from trucker group leaders in several states.
Deliveries of meat, produce and other items into the Washington area continued to be slow, and price increases reflected the recent shortages caused by the truckers shutdown, but area food merchants said no real shortages were expected. CAPTION: Map, Safe Routes Priority Transportation Routes, By Richard Furno - The Washington Post