The trucking industry offered the Teamsters union a money package yesterday that reportedly conforms to President Carter's wage guidelines, as Carter's inflation adviser charged that a substantially higher contract settlement would be an "act of aggression against the American People."
In another sign of intensifying government pressure on the high-stakes trucking negotiations, the administration urged denial of some rate increases that the industry is seeking to absorb the costs of a new Teamster contract.
The new pressure on the industry came in a petition from the Council on Wage and Price Stability urging the Interstate Commerce Commission to suspend -- pending "an ICC investigation of their reasonableness" -- six of 10 regional rate increases proposed to take effect April 1, the target date for a new Teamster master-freight contract.
"I would not say there has been any real progress," said chief federal mediator Wayne L. Horvitz after a full day of bargaining, indicating that the government's guideline enforcement efforts, including yesterday's developments, remain a principal hurdle in the talks. Horvitz said the two parties will meet separately today and resume face-to-face bargaining tomorrow, probably continuing through the weekend.
The industry's first wage offer, reportedly including a first-year increase of 65 cents on top of a current wage base of nearly $10 an hour, is less than half the Teamsters' first demand of $1.35 an hour. The industry also proposed increases of 10 cents an hour in the second and third years of the contract, plus some additional money for cost-of-living increases and benefits.
The first-year wage increase amounts to roughly 6.5 percent and the whole package is "well within" the administration's guideline of 7 percent a year for wage and benefit increases, said J. Curtis Counts, the industry's chief negotiator. The Teamsters' initial demand amounts to roughly 14 percent for the first year and about 35 percent over three years, according to government calculations.
Teamsters' bargainers were reported to have reacted angrily to the industry proposal, although Frank Fitzsimmons, the union president and chief bargainer, said it was not rejected outright. Counts said it was aimed at providing a "basis for negotiations," and talks were continuing late yesterday.
The current contract expires March 31, and a national strike or company-by-company shutdowns are considered possible if an agreement is not reached by then, although Carter has said he would take immediate legal or legislative action to stop a nationwide Teamster walkout.
Administration pressure on both sides is heavy because the Teamster contract, covering 300,000 truck drivers and warehouse workers, is considered crucial to the fate of the president's already deeply troubled voluntary anti-inflation program.
In some of the toughest words yet about the Teamster bargaining, presidential inflation adviser Alfred E. Kahn viewed the prospects of a first-year settlement approaching 14 percent in virtual national security terms. "It's obvious... that any settlement of that kind is really, or will be, an act of aggression against the American people because there's no way in the world that anybody can settle at 14, 12, 11, 10 or 9 percent" without seriously adding to inflation, Kahn told reporters.
By stopping at 9 percent, however, Kahn raised questions about whether that is the effective ceiling for the Teamsters in the first year. At a briefing earlier, he indicated that it might be at least 8 1/2 percent under existing exemptions and allowances for flexibility.
Kahn's comments drew a strong rejoinder from Fitzsimmons, who told reporters, "I don't pay too much attention to Mr. Kahn. I don't think he's in the realm of saneness on any of his programs."
As for corporate profits, which the government reported Tuesday as having risen 26.4 percent last year, Fitzsimmons said the figures were "amazing and enlightening" in view of the administration's pressure to keep labor cost increases to 7 percent.
The Council on Wage and Price Stability's objections to the trucking industry rate requests will be considered when the ICC makes its decisions later this month, a commission spokesman said. The ICC, which sets rates that interstate truckers can charge, has said it will not automatically approve increases that stem from labor cost increases.
In objecting to six of the 10 proposed regional increases, CWPS said three exceed price standards limiting increases to one-half a percentage point above average increases during 1976 and 1977, while three would concentrate the increases during the first half of this year, in violation of a recent tightening of the price guideline. The 10 rate requests call for increases ranging from 5.4 to 7.5 percent.