Resisting pressure for White House intervention in the stalled coal negotiations, President Carter said yesterday he has "no present intention" of seeking an injunction to end the 55-day walkout by the United Mine Workers.
He acknowledged that the strike may cause some localized energy shortages but said "I have no present intention to exercise my authority under the Taft-Hartley Act."
The law, passed in 1947, empowers the government to seek court injunctions ordering strikers back to work for 80 days "cooling-off" periods in the case of national emergencies - a term that has often been loosely interpreted by past Presidents.
"It only provides for the President the authority to intercede if the national security is in danger," Carter said in answer to a question at his news conference. "We certainly have not arrived at that point yet."
Carter's reaffirmation of the administration's hands-off policy toward labor disputes came as coal negotiations bogged down for the third time in a month and Ohio Gov. James Rhodes appealed to the White House for help.
Claiming Ohio faces "catastrophe" from too much snow and too little coal, Rhodes urged Carter to "personally intervene in the coal dispute by moving the negotiations into the White House" and "assume the role of chief negotiator."
This was the practice of some previous Presidents, principally Lyndon B. Johnson, who like nothing better than to announce a strike settlement from the White House in time for the evening news shows. But Carter has chosen a non-interventionist course on the advice of Labor Secretary Ray Marshall and others, who contend that bargaining disputes are settled better without government involvement.
Ohio is one of several heavily coal-dependent states in Appalachia and the Midwest that are beginning to feel the strike's impact, although utilities in most areas still have coal stockpiles sufficient to last about 80 days, according to government coal monitors.
Possible use of a Taft-Hartley injunction in the coal strike is complicated by widespread expectations that it would be ignored and might trigger violence. An injunction was last used in the 1950 coal strike, without notable success.
Bargaining between the UMW and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association remained in recess yesterday after breaking off early Sunday, but both sides privately indicated optimism yesterday that a settlement could be reached shortly when the talks resume.
Wayne L. Horvitz, chief of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, was in contact with both sides, hoping to bring them back to the bargaining table before agreements reached before the break-off start to become unglued.
The two sides are still far apart on a money settlement but reportedly have reached agreement-in-principle on other key issues, including guaranteed benefit levels and disciplinary procedures, applicable to both employers and employees, to curb wildcat strikes. In addition, the UMW has apparently dropped its demand for a limited right to strike over local mine problems.
One source indicated yesterday that the union is seeking an overall money package exceeding 40 per cent over three years, while the BCOA is talking in terms of less than 35 per cent. A three-year average of slightly more than 30 per cent was common for most major settlements last year.
Negotiations over the economic package are complicated by the fact that the pact must be ratified by the 160,000 striking miners, whose adverse reaction to suggested contract terms late last year derailed the talks for almost two weeks.