AFL-CIO President George Meany conceded defeat of labor law "reform" legislation for the year yesterday but won a concession from the Carter administration to restrain government intervention in collective bargaining over wage increases.
The concession, delivered in person by Labor Secretary Ray Marshall to the AFL-CIO executive council, was aimed at defusing organized labor's mounting anger at recent efforts by Barry Bosworth, head of the Council on Wage and Price Stability, to keep down the costs of wage settlements in railroad, retail food and other industries.
Speaking to reporters after addressing the AFL-CIO leaders, Marshall denied that the move was designed as a "muzzle" but acknowledged that "it will no longer be Mr. Bosworth speaking for himself" on collective bargaining matters.
Instead, Marshall said, President Carter has named a five-member committee to "go forth with one message" on reducing costs of labor settlements. The committee will be headed by Marshall, and other members will be Bosworth, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Charles L. Schultze and presidential assistants Robert S. Strauss and Landon Butler.
Asked if this would virtually rule out government intervention in the bargaining process Marshall said, "We're not likely to do it without a struggle."
He acknowledged that his strong opposition to intervention could be overruled by other committee members but asserted that the new committee mechanism will "do a lot to solve the problem" of bargaining intervention, which has been a major irritant in relations between the administration and organized labor.
Meany said he would not comment on Marshall's message until today, but sources said labor leaders were "pleased."
Earlier, as the council gathered for its regular midsummer session, Meany had kinder than usual words for Carter, but sharply criticized Bosworth, accusing him of doing "everything he possibly could to come down on the side of the employer in wage negotiations" by urging resistance to union demands. "In all my experience," he said, "this has never happened before."
Meany said he told Carter about his displeasure with Bosworth at a meeting last month and was promised a response from Marshall, who is labor's strongest ally in the administration and has been lobbying in it on his own against bargaining intervention as part of the administration's anti-inflatio policy.
Meany's acknowledgment of defeat on legislation to overhaul labor laws by cracking down on employer violations marks the latest in a series of labor losses to an increasingly active business lobby, which has prompted rumblings in union circles of a business-led "class warfare" in the country.
At his press conference here, Meany said he agreed with that assessment, attributing labor's sagging fortunes in Congress to a "resurgence of right-wing feeling" and a decline in the strength of political parties.
But he appeared to have no new ideas about how to reverse labor's losing streak, except by strengthening coalition ties with minorities and other groups. "We've just got to fight a little harder," he said.
Although the AFL-CIO has not decided whether to join the United Auto Workers in quitting the Labor-Management Group, a semiofficial council of union and corporate advisers to the White House, Meany said, "personally, I don't know how the hell we can sit with them any more."
He said he sympathized with UAW President Douglas A. Fraser's decision last month to quit the group, but criticized Fraser, whose large and politically powerful union is not an AFL-CIO affiliate, for not consulting in advance with AFL-CIO members of the group, which includes Meany.
While unions are having no greater problems with management at the bargaining table than they have in the past, Meany said, the business community "still toys with the idea that there is some way to destroy labor unions."
Meany's attack on the business lobby - and on congressional response to it - fell short of some earlier predictions that the AFL-CIO leaders would come out fighting, with some kind of battle plan when they formally buried the labor bill. The council discussed political reprisals, including supporting more Republicans for office and more selective use of campaign money, but Meany said no decisions were made.
The labor bill which prescribed deadlines for union representation elections and heavy penalties for employers who illegally thwarted organizing and bargaining drives, has been presumed virtually dead since it was sent back to committee in June after failure of repeated attempts to break a filibuster against it.
Meany said the AFL-CIO may support procedural changes now under consideration by Senate leaders in an attempt to salvage some remnants of the legislation, but asserted that these changes do not constitute "reform."
Said Meany: "As far as this session of Congress is concerned, labor law reform is dead."