With no end in sight, the nation's record-long coal strike is threatening a total shutdown of the Chrysler Corp. by March 1 and some Ford Motor Co. plant closings even sooner.
The prospective auto worker layoffs, which would amount to 150,000 at Chrysler alone, stem from electric power shortages in Ohio, the state that has been hardest hit by the 70-day coal walkout.
All three major auto makers have extensive operations in Ohio. Officials at General Motors, the nation's largest auto manufacturer, said they were still assessing how severely the power curtailments would affect their operations.
The prospect of the first major strike-related industrial layoffs loomed as the coal industry showed no eagerness to rush back to the bargaining table in the wake of a settlement rejection Sunday by the United Mine Workers' bargaining council.
UMW President Arnold Miller has asked the Bituminous Coal Operators Association for a resumption of talks. As of late yesterday, BCOA had not responded except to say it was "appalled" at the contract rejection.
It is considered possible - but unlikely - that BCOA could refuse to resume negotiations and declare an impasse, thus opening the coal industry to local or regional bargaining and threatening whatever remains of cohesiveness within the strife-torn UMW. Sources indicated an end to the 28-year pattern of national coal bargaining could not be ruled out, especially if there is no quick break in the current stalemate.
With coal stocks reaching critically low levels in a number of Eastern states, Labor Secretary Ray Marshall met late yesterday with Miller and other UMW negotiators and scheduled a similar session for today with BCOA leaders.
Although the White House continued to ruled out seeking a Taff-Hartley Act injunction to stop the strike for 80 days, Marshall's action appeared to signal a somewhat more vigorous strike settlement effort by the administration.
Pressure for more aggressive action continued to build. Ohio's congressional delegation urged Carter to intervene personally in the dispute, and House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.), calling the UMW "the flakiest union in the United States," joined Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) in urging Carter to invoke Taff-Hartley.
At Chrysler, officials said anticipated power cutbacks of up to 75 percent by March 1 in Ohio would force closure of two major parts suppliers in that state; a stamping plant in Warren and a plastics plant in Sandusky. All Chrysler plants nationwide would have to shut down shortly thereafter because the two Ohio plants supply parts for all Chrysler cars and trucks, they said.
"If there is no [UMW] settlement by March 1, Ohio Edison will reduce our power by 75 per cent. We will close down," said James E. Harbour, director of manufacturing, engineering and serves for Chrysler, the county's third largest auto maker.
At Ford, the second largest, manufacturing vice president Raymond L. Logue said an early settlement is essential to avoid shutdowns of "at least some of our manufacturing and assembly operations later this month." Officials said the extent of shutdowns could not be predicted but noted that major engine plants and two of Ford's three transmission plants are located in Ohio.
At American Motors, a spokesman said Ohio power cutbacks may force curtailmtnt of Jeep production in Toledo.
The auto companies say they have their own coal stockpiles but electricity supplies are beyond their control.
About 75 per cent of the nation's coal goes into electric power generation, with another 14 percent used as coking coal for steel production and about 10 percent burned for general industrial purposes. Only 1 per cent is sold through retail dealers.
Utilities still have an average supply of nearly two months, but some companies are down to 25 days or less.
Steel companies had a 53-day supply as of late January, but 20 percent of steel is produced by electric-powered furnaces.