AFL-CIO President George Meany sought yesterday to smooth over differences between President Carter and organized labor over how to fight inflation but reiterated his opposition of Carter's call for voluntary wage restraint by unions.
Denying recurrent reports of increasing hostility between himself and Carter, Meany said he would support the president again over any known Republican challenger and would not encourage a "dump-Carter" move among Democrats in 1980.
"By and large, I think he's done quite well," said Meany, appearing to go out of his way to play down any appearance of a serious rift between the AFL-CIO and the White House during an appearance on "Issues and Answers" (ABC, WJLA).
Meany said the AFL-CIO was "disappointed" with some of Carter's actions just as he was sure that Carter was "disappointed" with the AFL-CIO's rejection of specific wage curb targets at a White House meeting Wednesday.
But there was "no confrontation," said Meany. "Once in a while I have disagreed with him and I suppose I'll have more disagreements from time to time, but basically I support him."
Meany's generally upbeat but not overly enthusiastic assessment of Carter came as the administration and organized labor prepared for this week's joint effort to win Senate approval of a bill revising labor laws. Labor is counting on Carter for help in breaking a threatened filibuster.
Carter reaffirmed his support for the legislation on Tuesday, the day before the disagreement over inflation. Yesterday Senate Human Resources Committee chairman Harrison Williams (D-N.Y.) said on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC) that the president "couldn't be stronger" in backing the bill, which is labor's top-priority legislation for the year. On the same program a critical senator, Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), said that without intensive lobbying by labor "this bill would be defeated up and down."
Meany said he did not feel labor's support for Carter in 1976 was misplaced, and indicated he would bck him again in 1980 if he is the Democratic nominee. "If he was running for president today against any of the Republican candidates who have been mentioned, I would be all out in support of Jimmy Carter today," he said.
Asked if he would participate in a "dump-Carter move," Meany said, "No sir, I would not." When a questioner noted that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) ran ahead of Carter in a recent Gallup Poll of presidential preferences among Democratic voters, Meany said he doesn't dabble in Democratic primaries and added: "If the Democrats are going to have to do it."
The Wednesday meeting, described by both administration and labor sources as tense and heated at times, was the latest in a series of encounters that have prompted speculation about poor chemistry between the 83-year-old Bronx-born labor leader and the Southern businessman-turned-president.
Meany denied that, too, saying reports of incompatibility and inability to communicate had been exaggerated by journalists who are "looking for blood on the floor."
At the meeting between Carter and the AFL-CIO Executive Council, which followed a more harmonious session between Carter and big business leaders last month, the president specifically asked the council, which includes the presidents of most big AFL-CIO unions, to aim for wage increase less than they won in their most recent contracts.
"We couldn't deliver that . . . We don't negotiate contracts," said Meany.
He noted that Barry Bosworth, director of the Council on wage and Price Stability, agreed the next day in a Washington Post interview that the labor council had a point.
Instead, Bosworth suggested that unions that had small increases in the past three years be asked to hold the line, while unions that enjoyed large gains be asked to reduce their demands.
Meany skirted this yesterday, saying unions that had the biggest increases recently aren't seeking large gains this time around.
And he said, as he did after the Wednesday meeting, that the would cooperate fully in other aspects of Carter's anti-inflation drive, and that wage increases will taper off as prices fall. "Bring the prices down and I'm quite sure that wages will stay down . . . I don't think there's any question on that," said Meany.