The refinery workers union, caught between the government's anti-nflation guidelines and its own reluctance to strike, outlined its conditions today for a new contract -- possibly within the guidelines.
In doing so, the bargaining policy committee of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers rejected all pending contract offers, including one from Standard Oil of Indiana (Amoco) that had been viewed as a possible patternsetter for the industry.
A negotiator for one major oil company said the union's move was "encouraging," adding that "compromise" offers could be expected shortly from the companies. "They batted the ball back to our court, and it's now up to us to come up with something," he said.
The Amoco offer fizzled after government inflation fighters declined to give assurances satisfactory to the union that the company's offer of a 73-cent-per-hour wage increase -- if adopted by all companies -- would meet the government's 7 percent guideline for wage increases.
The companies say they are sticking to the wage guideline, and the union accuses them of hiding behind the guideline to avoid meeting the union's call for a "substantial" increase over the next two years.
One reason the union did not accept the Amoco offer was fear that other companies, contending that 73 cents per hour would boost them over the 7 percent ceiling, would reject it as a pattern. OCAW President A. F. Grospiron said today he would need "a number of offers from oil companies," meaning enough to establish a pattern in advance of any single contract agreement.
"The industry will have to decide if it wants an agreement or if it wants a strike," said Grospiron.
The union's conditions parallel the Amoco offer in some respects, including a first-year wage increase calculated on a cents-per-hour basis and a wage reopener for the second year of the contract. But the union rejected Amoco's insistence on exempting newly hired and temporary workers from any wage increase. It did not specify the amount of a first-year wage rise, and Grospiron said the question now "boils down to money in the first year."
The conditions would give the union the right to reopen wage and benefit clauses of the contract at any time, which could be important if the guideline program collapses, and to strike over wages at any time during the second year of the contract.
Grospiron said the government neither accepted nor rejected the Amoco offer as a pattern for the industry and was "vague" about its conformity to the wage guideline. "There was a lot of screaming and hollering within the oil companies, a lot of backbiting... a confused situation," said Grospiron, 'so what we decided to do was clear the decks."
The union's 60,000 refinery members have been working without a contract since Sunday, when the previous contract expired.