Rolling right over President Carter's anti-inflation guidelines, the Teamsters union is proposing huge wage and benefit increases over the next three years, including a 1979 pay raise that reportedly is about double what the administration wants.
Sources close to the Teamsters' contract talks with the nation's trucking industry said the union is seeking a first-year wage increase of 12 to 14 percent, far in excess of the government's proposed ceiling of 7 percent for all wage and fringe benefit improvements.
Proposals for a more generous cost-of-living formula and a substantial increase in health, welfare and pension benefits could mean even higher increases.
Industry bargainers were still computing the cost late yesterday, but one source suggested the total increase in labor costs, including items that will not be counted in measuring compliance with the 7 percent guideline, could run as high as 25 percent this year and 50 percent over the life of the contract.
While the Teamster proposal was the union's initial money bid, inflated for tactical reasons and sure to be cut as the negotiations near a March 31 deadline, it indicates the 2 million member union is playing tough with the government.
The so-called Master Freight Agreement covering about 300,000 truck drivers and warehouse workers is generally regarded as the crucial test of the administration's guideline program, with potentially enormous impact on future bargaining in the rubber, electrical, auto and other industries. Some believe a guideline-busting Teamsters settlement could scuttle the voluntary program.
"It can't look good," said one highplaced administration official after learning some details of the proposal, which was given to industry negotiators during talks in Florida on Tuesday and held as a closely guarded secret by both sides until details began to leak out yesterday.
The Teamsters have been pressing the government, apparently with little success, to modify the wage guideline and make it easier for the union to comply.
Teamster leaders have complained that the administration's failure to control inflation, now running at about 10 percent, makes it harder for the union to adhere to a 7 percent wage standard. The union has been urging the government to relax the guideline in several areas.
Some administration officials speculated the size and timing of the union's proposal reflected "pique, anger and frustration," as one put it, at the government's refusal to relax the guidelines any further. Earlier, with the Teamsters in mind, the government agreed to disregard some benefit costs in measuring compliance.
Neither the Teamsters nor Trucking Management Inc., the industry bargaining group, would confirm any details, but TMI President J. Curtis Counts was quoted by The Associated Press in Chicago as saying that reports circulating yesterday were "essentially correct."
One account, initially published in The Chicago Tribune and confirmed by a source close to the talks, said the union is seeking an increase of $2.35 over its current hourly wage base of roughly $9.40 by 1981, including $1.35 this year. Another well-placed source said the first-year increase is at least $1.25 an hour and probably more.
The union also is seeking a revised cost-of-living formula that would recover the full costs of inflation, rather than two-thirds of it. At an inflation rate of 8 percent, this could add $2.80 to the wage base by the end of the contract.
In the area of medical and pension benefits, the union reportedly is seeking an increase of nearly 50 percent: from roughly $65 to $95 a week over three years.
It was unclear yesterday whether the Teamster package was aimed at signaling defiance of the guidelines or prodding the administration to bend the rules again, but speculation centered on the latter. "You can say they did get our attention," said one administration official.