Leaders of the Communications Workers of America said yesterday they will stay within President Carter's 7.5 percent to 9.5 percent pay raise guidelines in upcoming contract talks with the Bell Telephone System.
"We believe, under those guidelines, we can achieve our objectives without an inflationary settlement," said CWA President Glenn E. Watts in announcing the union's 1980 bargaining goals.
Three-year contracts covering 525,000 CWA members in the Bell System, the nation's single largest employer, expire Aug. 9. Other Bell contracts covering a total of 176,000 employes represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Telecommunications International Union expire the same date.
CWA sets the pattern for union contract settlements with the Bell System.
Despite union plans to respect administration pay guidelines, Watts said he anticipates "a rather tough round of bargaining" with the phone company.
He said inflation and growing competition in the telecommunications industry "will encourage the Bell System to take a tougher stand than it has in the past."
The company probably will resist CWA efforts to improve the cost of living adjustment (COLA) clause in the 1977 contract, which allows union members to recover about 80 percent of the loss in real wages caused by inflation, according to Watts.
The CWA president said he intends to push for a new COLA provision that will help his members recoup 100 percent of real wage losses.
The real wage measures what workers can actually buy with the money they take home. The company's failure to protect that wage by refusing to improve the current COLA clause could lead to a strike, Watts said.
But the warning probably is more of a bargaining ploy than a substantial threat. The last nationwide CWA strike over contract issues came in 1971. It lasted two weeks.
Other key CWA bargaining points for 1980 include:
Elimination of compulsory overtime.
Improvement of pension and disability benefits.
Elimination of subcontracting of CWA bargaining unit work to firms outside the Bell System.
Creation of an "automation clause" to protect workers against "technological unemployment."
Spreading the work by providing longer vacations, a 32-hour work week and additional holidays or excused work days.
Improvement of medical, dental and life insurance plans.
Watts said both improved wage and non-wage benefits are justified because the Bell System, "through the efforts of its employes," has had an average annual productivity gain rate of 6.7 percent since 1970 -- compared to a national average rate of 1.7 percent.
Also, since the 1977 contract, the company's net income has risen about 21 percent to $5.7 billion annually, Watts said.
Current average Bell base wages amount to $9.32 an hour. The average total compensation, including non-wage benefits, is $13.60 an hour.
Bell public relations director Charles Dynes said yesterday "it would be inappropriate to discuss at this time the specifics" of what the company will do when it goes to the bargaining table June 4.
"Our overriding objective will be to consider fully both the interest of our employes and the business," Dynes said.
Asked to comment on the union's pledge to stay within President Carter's wage guidelines, Dynes laughed and said:
"They're good citizens."