The Teamsters union called for local strike authorization votes yesterday as trucking industry contract talks headed into their final two weeks with no visible signs of progress toward a settlement.
The call for strike votes -- required by federal law before a walkout can be ordered -- came at a closed-door meeting of several hundred local Teamster officers shortly before bargaining for a new three-year national trucking contract resumed after a week-long recess.
Such votes are normally part of a union's arsenal of psychological weapons in collective bargaining, and the Teamsters' action appeared to be no exception -- although neither the government nor the industry is taking strike talk from the union as an idle threat.
A number of sources who earlier discounted the likelihood of a strike are now saying that either a national strike or localized work stoppages are increasingly likely after the current contract expires March 31 because of hard lines that have developed over President Carter's 7 percent anti-inflation guideline for annual wage and benefit increases.
When the government refused to soften its guidelines to meet Teamster cost proposals, the union submitted an initial bargaining demand that is at least double the guideline for the first year. The industry, apparently sticking by the guidelines, had not made a counteroffer as of late yesterday.
There has been only one national trucking strike in the 15-year history of master-freight agreements, a three-day walkout before the current contract was negotiated in 1976. President Carter has said he would seek immediate legal or legislative action to end a national trucking strike.
Asked about chances of avoiding a strike as the left the union meeting at a Washington hotel and headed for the talks at an Arlington motel, Teamsters President Frank Fitzsimmons was noncommittal. "Everyone who's ever negotiated a contract wants to settle without a strike," he said.
Wayne L. Horvitz, head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, met separately with both sides for several hours in what appeared to be little more than warm-up sessions. The two sides were scheduled to meet today in subcommittees.
While no progress was reported, sources indicated the atmosphere was generally cordial.
Both sides, however, indicated displeasure with a threat last week by Alfred E. Kahn, the president's chief inflation fighter, to move for deregulation of the trucking industry if the settlement substantially exceeds the inflation guidelines.
"I don't think he's the best qualified expert," said Fitzsimmons, without elaborating.
J. Curtis Counts, the industry's chief bargainer, said deregulation should be decided on its merits, independently of contract bargaining.