President Carter ordered stopgap measures yesterday to minimize hardships caused by the 68-day-old coal strike but continued to withhold use of executive power to end the record-long mine walkout.
Carter's action came as the striking United Mine Workers remained paralyzed by an internal impasse over a tentative contract negotiated earlier last week with the nation's bituminous coal operators.
The union's intramural strife intensified prospects that the strike will last long enough - probably at least through February - to cause acute energy shortages in Ohio, Pennsylavania, Indiana, Tennessee and other Appalachian and Midwestern states that are heavily dependent on coal. Major electric power cutbacks are already planned and industrial layoffs threatened.
"Before the strike is over, and for several weeks thereafter until the normal flow of coal is restored, even greater hardship will occur," said Carter in urging voluntary energy conservation as well as ordering various administrative steps to ease the strike's impact on the public.
He asked the Energy Department to draft plans for possible emergency movement of coal from surplus to shortage areas and to continue its efforts to reroute electricity to areas of greatest need.
In another effort to make more efficient use of dwindling coal stocks, he instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to give "expedited review" to requests for temporary relaxation of federal clean air standards that impede efficiency.
For Ohio, which has been hit hardest so far by the strike, he declared a regional energy emergency under which the state could suspend federal anti-pollution regulations for 30 days.
Carter also ordered federal facilities in coal-short states to reduce power consumption to "minimum necessary levels," instructed law enforcement officials to plan for peacekeeping in violence-prone strike areas, and set up a federal-state task force to work on power allocation and job impact problems.
But the president reiterated his belief that the situation still does not warrant invoking injunctive powers of the Taft-Hartley Act, under which the 160,000 striking miners could be ordered back to work for an 80-day cooling-off period.
"I continue to believe that the solution to the strike must be worked out in free collective bargaining by the parties," Carter said. "I hope that all those involved in the strike will abide by the law and act responsibly in all respects. I urge all parties to respect the principles of fairness and cooperation during the days ahead."
Carter told a group of out-of-town editors Friday that he can seek a Taft-Hartley injunction only "if the national security is threatened" and added, "That point has not yet been reached."
While the country has an evarage coal supply sufficient to last about two months, stockpiles of some utilities in the hardest-hit states have dropped to as little as 21-days, according to the Energy Department. The situation is doubly critical because coal at the bottom of the piles gets mixed with water and mud and cannot be used efficiently, officials explained.
Coal is still being produced by non-UMW mines but at considerably below normal rates. When it's working, the union produces about half the nation's coal. Production is currently running at about one-third normal levels.
Injunctions have historically been ineffective in bringing miners back to work and Carter's advisers are wary of government action that might precipitate violence.
Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) was the latest of many public officials to urge Carter to take more direct action to end the strike, including summoning the feuding union officials to the White House. "I think the president darn well better get more involved." Glenn said yesterday, ?. . . or this thing could go on interminably."
In his statement, Carter said he had asked Labor Secretary Ray Marshall to "continue his efforts to facilitate the collective bargaining process," but it was unclear what bearing this might have on the most immediate problem: the apparent refusal of the UMW's bargaining council to approve a tentative agreement signed Monday by UMW President Arnold Miller.
The 39-member council informally rejected the pact Friday. It was thwarted from making the rejection official when Miller, charging "intimidation" by several hundred miners who were protesting outside the UMW headquarters, refused to attend and thus give legal sanction to the meeting. Consideration was reportedly being given yesterday to holding a meeting today or tomorrow.
The proposed pact would increase total compensation by nearly 37 per cent over three years, the largest overall increase for any major industrial union since the last UMW contract in 1974. Average hourly wages would rise from $7.80 to $10.15 by 1981.
It would also guaranteed payment of pension and medical benefits, which are not now guaranteed and have been cut off. But it would also impose stringent controls on labor stability and costs. Coupled with internal union politics and Miller's awkward handling of the package's presentation, this has created the impasse.
According to council members and rank-and-file protesters, the main controversies involve:
Disciplinary procedures to curb wildcat strikes, including empowering companies to fire ringleaders and requiring unauthorized strikers to reimburse benefit funds for losses at a rate of $20 a day for 10 days each month, after which the striker would lose all benefits. A company would have to reimburse the miners if an arbitrator later found that it provoked the strike. Some miners are demanding a limited right to strike over local grievances, by majority vote of the miners involved.
Loss of cost-of-living increases, although contract proponents say these have been calculated into overall compensation, which they note would be considerably higher than combined wage-rate and living-cost hikes under the old contract.
Medical deductibles of up to $500 per family a year in hospital charges, $150 in doctors' fees and $50 for drugs to replace benefits that were formerly free but intermittent, depending on whether the benefit program was solvent.
Production incentive plan (opponents say these would invite safety hazards, while proponents contend that companies have the power to institute such plans anyway and the contract would give the union some voice in how they operate).
A new 30-day probationary period before a miner comes under union protections (and gets union benefits), authority for companies to process coal seven days a week instead of six, and pension increases that fall short of some miners' demands for total equalization of retirement benefits.