The White House exerted heavy pressure on industry to end the 80-day coal strike yesterday, including a behind-the-scenes effort by U.S. trade negotiator Robert S. Strauss to get mine-owning steel companies to break with other producers and accept the coal union's "bottom-line" contract demand.
In a day of orchestrated public and private jawboning to settle the increasingly disruptive walkout, President Carter also:
Summoned congressional leaders of both parties to the White House for consultations resulting in a bipartisan display of support for strong, swift executive action if a negotiated settlement is not reached by the weekend.
Used three Democratic governors from Appalachian coal states to deliver a public ultimatum to the coal operators that acceptance of the union proposal was the only way of averting "drastic action" from the White House.
Drastic action was translated to mean one of three options, or a combination of them: an 80-day back-to-work order under the Taft-Hartley Act, temporary government seizure of the mines, or arbitration of the dispute.
A Taft-Hartley injunction does not require congressional approval, but the other two alternatives do. Carter has indicated he will not make a decision until this weekend to give the stalemated negotiations a final chance to succeed.
"For cosmetic reasons," said Rep. Frank Thompson (D-N.J.) after the congressional briefing, "the president will probably announce an 80-day cooling-off period under Taft-Hartley and then we would draft a bill that would include seizure and probably some form of arbitration, but not binding arbitration."
While miners have indicated they would refuse to obey an injunction. Carter could invoke Taft-Hartley to demonstrate the government's commitment to end the strike, said Thompson. Others have expressed fear that an injunction would make the miners so angry they would also refuse to work under seizure or an arbitrated settlement.
The United Mine Workers' so-called "bottom-line" demand is a modified version of a tentative settlement reached over the weekend with the Pittsburg and Midway Coal Mining Co., which is not a member of the industry's major bargaining group, the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA).
The UMW presented the P&M package, sweetened by the addition of guaranteed health and pension benefits, to the BCOA on Wednesday. BCOA refused to respond to the proposal, thereby triggering yesterday's drumfire of administration pressure.
According to both industry and government sources, trade negotiator Strauss was lobbying the chief executives of three major steel company members of BCOA -- Edgar B. Speer, chairman of U.S. Steel; Lewis W. Foy, chairman of Bethlehem Steel and George A. Stinson, chairman of National Steel -- to break with BCOA's united front and accept the P&M offer.
An industry source said late yesterday the "situation was still fluid."
The three steel companies are powerful voices within BCOA but have thus far stuck with the 130-company association's refusal to abandon demands for strong protections against wildcat strikes and other labor practices that, according to coal company complaints, run up costs and impede production.
The P&M contract provides roughly the same 37 percent compensation increase over three years as a tentative BCOA-UMW settlement that was rejected earlier by the union's bargaining council. But it drops many of the BCOA's labor stability demands, including penalties for miners who honor wildcat strikes.
The administration has concentrated its pressure on industry, according to several sources, because the union's bargaining council is considered virtually certain to refuse anything short of the P&M settlement. "It was extraordinarily difficult to get the union even that far," said one source.
As the administration turned up the pressure on industry, the strike's impact deepened in heavily coal-dependent midwestern and mid-Atlantic regions -- with the auto industry beginning to furlough workers and several states planning power cutbacks that could cause more layoffs starting next week.
In Indiana, now the hardest-hit state, General Motors announced one-day furloughs affecting 8,200 workers at two of its Delco Electronics plants. In addition, about 3 million Hoosiers will be forced to reduce electrical usage by the weekend.
In Ohio, where a 50 percent industrial power cutoff is expected next week, GM has said it may have to lay off up to 300,000 workers when key components plants are closed. Ford and Chrysler are also facing layoffs.
Other states anticipating power cut-backs that may cause drastic layoffs include West Virginia and Maryland. Pleas for voluntary power-saving measures were made from Missouri and Illinois to Alabama and Virginia. In Tennessee, Gov. Ray Blanton warned that 135,000 persons would be out of work soon it voluntary conservation measures don't work.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally chartered public utility, has quietly ordered thousands of tons of nonunion coal from Wyoming, United Press International reported. The UMW which is strong in the Tennessee Valley area, strongly objects to importation of what it calls "scab coal" and railroad officials declined comment for "fear of violence," as one of them put it.
It is this kind of atmosphere that is propelling the administration reluctantly toward a government-imposed end to the strike, even though all available courses of action run the risk of defiance or delay -- all, that is, except a prompt negotiated settlement.
That is where the coal-state governors -- Democrats Julian Carroll of Kentucky, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Milton Shapp of Pennsylvania -- came in. Republican James Rhodes of Ohio decided not to attend.
After their hastily organized trip to Washington to talk with Carter, the Democratic governors, told reporters in the White House briefing room that acceptance of the P&M contract is the only alternative to governmental intervention.
There is no possibility for substantial alteration of its provisions, said Rockefeller, adding:
"The choice is: do you say yes or do you say no. If you say yes, you have a settlement . . . if you say no, you have Taft-Hartley, you have seizure or some combination (of seizure, Taft-Hartley and arbitration).You have disaster in the coalfields and you have no coal."
Said Shapp: "The only show in town is that P&M contract."
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) also appealed to the coal companies to accept the P&M agreement.
After the congressional briefing, Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (Tenn.) said Carter should move ahead immediately with Taft-Hartley, warning that congressional action on other alternatives could take until early May. House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said the House would act "very quickly. . . forthwith" and any presidential action would have comfortable majorities in both houses.A White House official said later that some congressional leaders disputed Baker's warnings of a long delay.
While congressional leaders appeared to close ranks behind Carter, AFL-CIO President George Meany said the president has waited too long to intervene directly to end the strike.
It is rare for a labor leader to urge governmental action to end the strike, but Meany has already indicated that he considers the coal dispute a special case.
Meany said earlier Carter should seize the mines and added that, much as he dislikes the Taft-Hartley Act, he would not criticize the president if he invoked the law to order the miners back to work.