The White House is attempting to negotiate a compromise on minimum wage legislation in hopes of avoiding a bruising battle with organized labor and many congressional Democrats on the politically sensitive issue.
President Carter drew criticism from both quarters in March when he proposed that the present $2.30 an hour minimum wage be raised to $2.50 on July 1, with future increases pegged to 50 per cent of average manufacturing earnings.
AFL-CIO President George Meany, who was backing a $3 minimum with a 60 per cent escalator clause, denounced the proposal as "shameful." Several congressional leaders said they thought it was too low and predicted that Congress would raise it.
White House press secretary Jody Powell confirmed yesterday discussions are under way that could lead to administration support for a formula higher than $2.50 and 50 per cent, but he said no decisions have been made.
One source said the alternatives have gone as high as $2.65, with a comparable increase in the future escalator, but another said an immediate increase to $2.60 was more likely, even though the AFL-CIO has indicated that $2.60 would be too low.
Carter's top economic advisers have prepared several alternatives for submission shortly to congressional leaders, including House Labor Standards Subcommittee Chairman John H. Dent (D-Pa.), who originally proposed legislation calling for an immediate $2.85 minimum wage and a 60 per cent escalator.
The compromise reportedly entails an agreement on the part of congressional leaders not to support amendments raising the minimum wage higher than the administration's eventual compromise position.
"We might be willing to give a little if the other folks are willing to give," said Powell.
The move toward a compromise represents an apparent concession on the part of several of Carter's top economic advisers, including Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal and Charles L. Schultze, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. In the March deliberations, Labor Secretary Ray Marshall was the only Cabinet member supporting a minimum wage higher than $2.50.
A White House official said yesterday that Schultze and Blumenthal, while supporting the bid for a compromise, remain concerned about the potential impact of a minimum wage increase on youth and minority employment.
A congressional source said a $2.65 proposal, with a comparable rate for the future, would probably be satisfactory to Congress.
"I think if they could agree on $2.65, we could fend off any further 'sweeteners'," he said.