Despite widespread threats of a strike in the coal industry before the year's end. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall said yesterday the government will take a hands-off policy toward all collective bargaining negotiations.
Marshall questiones the effectiveness of previous attempts at intervention, and said, "Our policy is going to be to encourage the parties to settle their own problems, not to have them believe they can come to the government for solutions."
This represents a departure from the practise of some previous Secretary of Labor, including Marshall's predeccesor. William J. usery, a professional mediator who took an active role in helping negotiate trucking and rubber industry settlements last year.
Aside from mediation efforts by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Marshall said, that "we are not interested in intervening in particular collective bargaining negotiations," including the coal talks that are to start this fall under a cloud of internal union dissension and strike warnings from all sides.
But he said he believes the government can play a constructive role by seeking inprovements in bargaining procedures and helping "narrow the range of issues" before get to the bargaining table.
Marshall outlined the department's attitude toward collective bargaining in responding to inquires about creation of an inter-departmental committee to help labor and management in the construction industry deal with government-related problems - a kind of "one-stop shopping center" for coping with the bureaucracy, as a Marshall aide called it.
Marshall said the committee would not get involved in bargaining disputes but could be broadened in the future to include labor and management representatives, along the lines of a labor-management committee for the construction industry that disbanded in 1975.
Marshall also said similar committees may be set up for coal and other industries to deal with such problems as on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs, health and safety, federal wage requirements and affirmative action rules for minorities and women.
He said these committees would deal basically with problems that cannot be solved solely through collective bargaining.
Marshall did not claim to be speaking for President Carter in asserting a non-interventionist role for the government in bargaining disputes, but a Marshall aide said, Carter is understood to agree with Marshall.
Asked how this policy squares with the more activist role for government in controlling wages and prices espoused by Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Charles I. Schultze and others. Marshall grinned and said, "They'll have to do their thing."
On the questioned of governmental supervision of union elections, however, Marshall indicated that a more active governmental role is possible. He said the department is studying whether its powers to prevent wrong doing before an election should be broadened.