President Carter is in deep trouble with the giant blue collar wing of the AFL-CIO. Although most of its Federal members are classified as "support" personnel, the support they give ranges from repairing everything from typewriters to Phantom jets, and the all-important task of delivering Social Security checks and receiving income tax payments.
Union leaders are quietly furious with the president. On the one hand they are irked because he is steering clear of a postal reform package they want. At the same time, they are furious because the president is pursuing a reform of this own that could cut $450 million from the federal blue collar payroll.
The fireworks could come next week, when AFL-CIO chiefs meet in Bal Harbour, Fla. The purpose is to talk about inflation, jobs and the state of the nation from organized labor's viewpoint. Carter has been counting on the bib unions to give him the leverage he needs, in Congress and within the bureaucracy, to reorganize the government the way he wants it reorganized.
Without big labor cooperation, some of those reorganization plans are dead in the water and many Democrats up for re-election this year would prefer, if they must make a choice, to irk the president rather than the unions.
President Carter has told Congress, again that he wants it to get moving on his bill to whittle down the blue collar federal payroll, which he believes has become inflated because of an over-generous system of longevity pay steps, and night differential payments.
Federal blue collar wages are supposed to follow rates paid locally by private enterprise for the same jobs, but presidential advisers claim that at least half the government's blue collar workers make anywhere from 8 percent to 12 percent more than their counterparts in industry.
The President has proposed eliminating the 5-step pay system for blue collar workers and substituting a system with no more than three pay steps. Since each longevity pay step is worth 4 per cent, chopping off at least two of them would do dramatic things to the future paychecks of government workers.
Although the House has tried to stall the blue collar pay plan, Carter recently jabbed the leadership saying the American people are paying too much for services performed by many federal mechanics, carpenters, laborers and skilled craft workers.
Locally, about 23,000 government employes are paid under the blue collar wage system. Most of them would be affected by the President's pay plan, if Congress buys his reform package.
The AFL-CIO, which draws its membership heavily from blue collar ranks, doesn't like the idea of any cutback in federal wages since nonfederal unions use them to negotiate better contracts.
Postal union leaders are using most unkind terms in private to describe the president's attempts to bottle up a "reform" bill they like. It would increase subsidies to the U.S. Postal Service, thereby guaranteeing the continuation of services and the jobs of people who now perform them. The reform package they like, H.R. 7700, also would replace the present business-oriented Postmaster General with a presidential appointee who would presumably be more politically-oriented.
The AFL-CIO executive council also is expected to tell the president that it doesn't want government workers singled out as "examples" of how his 1978 wage-price restraint proposal is supposed to work.Although estimates are that federal workers might be due a 6.5 percent raise this October, the president's voluntary guidelines could limit them to a raise of less than 5.9 percent.