NEW YORK -- The Wire Service Guild, the union representing workers at United Press International, is charging that the financially troubled wire service is about to begin the "second wave of layoffs" since declaring contract negotiations at an impasse Nov. 1.

On Nov. 3, UPI's three top editors -- Ben Cason, Barry Sussman and Kim Willenson -- resigned, charging that they had been denied editorial control and no longer could guarantee the quality and integrity of the news report.

They also said they had been ordered to preside over "massive layoffs" of 300 to 500 of the company's 1,250 employes, a responsibility they said they refused to accept.

Dan Carmichael, secretary-treasurer of the union, said 30 staffers, mostly temporary and probationary workers, have been laid off since management broke off contract talks, an action the union has protested to the National Labor Relations Board.

He said that as of Monday, six more full-time, nonprobationary reporters in five bureaus will be fired and that "there are indications that other firings are planned."

Christopher Smith, a spokesman for UPI in Washington, denied that any formal firings have been ordered, but he confirmed that a number of layoffs will be announced in mid-January.

Asked if the layoff projection of 300 to 500 was valid, Smith said: "The task force that's looking into this hasn't come to a hard decision, but my guess is that that figure is really too large. At this point, we're looking at considerably less than that.

"There is no question that there are going to be cutbacks, but who and how many and where has simply not been decided," he said.

"We've been making an effort to work down through the process of attrition and cover areas where we had temporary or probationary employes, but it looks at this point like we're going to have to cut into the full-time regular staff as well," Smith said. "But there has been no formal notification of anybody in this organization that they're on tap for a pink slip."

"UPI denies it, but it's a very technical argument in that the people have not yet been served with paperwork, but they've been told they're through," Carmichael said.

Carmichael said the layoffs will hit bureaus in New Orleans; Little Rock, Ark.; Kansas City, Mo.; Boston, and Wichita, Kan. The Wichita operation is a one-member bureau that will be closed.

"The union regards these terminations as illegal under the no-layoffs provision of the definitive agreement which is part of the contract signed by UPI's principal owner, Mario Vazquez-Rana," Carmichael said. "It's UPI's way of saying Merry Christmas."

Smith denied that the no-layoffs provision signed by Mexican publisher Vazquez-Rana when he bought the bankrupt wire service in 1986 was a contract provision.