Coal operators and the United Mine Workers said they made "some progress" in intensive negotiations to end the nation's 96-day coal strike yesterday as federal marshals swarmed through the coalfields in search of union officials to serve with Taft-Hartley back-to-work orders.
The orders are expected to be enforced as of late tomorrow. A tentative settlement before then could help avoid wholesale defiance and possible violence, although negotiatiors expressed doubt last night that such a deadline could be met.
More importantly for both sides the hastily resumed talks represented a concerted effort to preserve industrywide collective bargaining in coal mining. The Carter administration, seeking to get coal moving in time to avoid acute power shortages in many eastern and midwestern states, has been encouraging piecemeal settlements, which both sides view as a threat to their unity and strength.
As the talks recessed after seven hours, Wilbert Killion, a UMW negotiator, said "some progress" was being made - an assessment echoed later by the chief industry negotiator, Nicholas Camicia, chairman of Pittston Coal Co.
Kenney Barker, president of Island Creek Coal Co., are formerhow a settlement could be reached this weekend but added that "more good-faith" efforts were being made now than before to reach an agreement that can be sold in the coalfields.
A major factor, he said, is that the current industry negotiators "have more actual coalmining background" - an apparent reference to the fact that Camicia and Stoney Barker, president of Islan Creek Coal Co., are former miners.
Dawes indicated the main stumbling back is restoration of full health and pension benefits, which would have sharply modified under a tentative agreement rejected overwhelmingly last weekend by the 160,000 rank-and-file strikers. "Both sides are trying to find some solution to this thing," said Dawes, adding that industry bagainers have indicated some flexibility but made no promises.
The rejected contract would have made miners pay up to $700 a year per family for medical care that previously was free, transferred control of the health system from independent truetees to the coal operators and changed eligibility requirements for pensions, among other things.
It also failed to meet many miners' objections to the wide disparities in the pension system and to proposed disciplinary action against leaders of wildcat strikes, which would be imposed without recourse to arbitration.
The bargaining teams were considering a second set of union proposals and industry counteroffers late yesterday when the talks were recessed until 1 p.m. today.
A settlement - still subject to approval by the union's 39-member bargaining council and then the rank and file - would not affect the temporary Taft-Hartley order against continuation of the strike, which was issued Thursday by a federal judge at President Carter's request.But it might affect miners' attitudes toward compliance and could serve to delay issuance of a final 80-day back-to-work injunction.
Many miners and some union officials have said they would defy the order, under which fines and jail terms can be imposed on those who seek to perpetuate the strike but not against individuals who simply stay home.
As the talks continued, federal marshals, delayed by the Justice Department's omission of a summons from the packets of papers to be served on 1,450 union and company officials, resumed their canvassing of the coalfields.
In some cases, it appeared to be a game of hide-and-seek. "They're going to have to find me first before they can serve that," Ed Bell, a West Virginia local president was quoted by United Press International as saying.
The job was complicated by the weekend closing of many union offices, but the marshals have until 4:30 p.m. tomorrow to serve the papers - making the Monday afternoon work shift the first real test of Taft-Hartley compliance.
As the talks were under way in Washington yesterday, about 200 protesters belonging to the National United Workers Organization demonstrated at the Labor Department and elsewhere in the city. The group, which reportedly included relatively few miners, was urging the government to stay out of the strike.
In a related development, the government's plan to cut off food stamps to strikers who refuse to return to work under the Taft-Hartley drew threat of court action from AFL-CIO President George Meany.
In a telegram to President Carter, Meany called the cutoff plan an "outrage" and said, "This attempt to force the miners to agree to an unacceptable contract by starving their wives and children is a vindictive act." Unless the plan is revoked, the AFL-CIO will "immediately challenge the action in court," Meany said.
Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland said Friday that strikers' food stamps will be cut off even though the law is "not clear" and the action may be tested in court.
Rep. Frederick W. Richmond (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Agriculture subcommittee that handles food stamp legislation, wrote Carter Friday that the a cutoff would be "contrary to the law."
Meanwhile, the impact of the strike intensified in midwestern industrial states, with steel mills laying off workers and auto plants resorting to diesel-powered generators in an attempt to continue operating with reduced supplies of electricity.