The Temasters Union, asserting it is unlikely to get a new contract by Saturday's negotiating deadline, filed suit yesterday in an apparently novel legal effort to make it more difficult for the government to block a strike.
In a suit filed in U.S. District Court here, lawyers for the huge union asked that the government be forced to disclose its case for a Taft-Hartley injunction against a Teamster strike or trucking company lockout, if either should occur.
They asked that four government officials, who have reportedly been compiling information in preparation for Taft-Hartley litigation, be required to submit themselves and their records to Teamsters Examination Friday or Monday.
The suit said negotiations under way between union and industry bargainers are not going well and blamed Carter administration interference, including threats of industry deregulation and a Taft-Hartley injunction to force the union to settle within the administration's 7 percent anti-inflation wage guideline.
Union officials said the suit was aimed at giving the Teamsters a "fair hearing." Government officials speculated it also might be aimed at bringing more pressure on the government to modify its guidelines.
While the suit appears to point in the direction of a strike, union spokesman Bernard Henderson said it does not mean one is inevitable.
Arguments over the union's suit, which a government official described as unprecedented in collective bargaining, will be heard today by Judge George Hart, union officials said.
Filing of the suit came as union and industry bargainers reportedly made some progress in bargaining over the weekend on non-money matters but continued to skirt a confrontation over wages and benefits and thus a showdown over the government's anti-inflation guidelines.
The current three-year contract covering 300,000 Teamster truck drivers and warehouse workers expires at midnight Saturday, when, if there is no agreement, the union could call local strikes or a potentially crippling nationwide strike.
Strike authorization meetings were held by union locals over the weekend, and initial reports indicate that, as expected, the vote to authorize strike action is likely to be over-whelming.
In their suit, the Teamsters noted that President Carter indicated several months ago that he would intervene immediately to stop a nation-wide Teamster strike. They said they believed the action would be in the form of an injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act stopping any strike for an 80-day cooling-off period.
The union said that in order to prepare an adequate defense against an injunction, it needs depositions from various departmental officials who might be expected to testify that a strike imperiled national safety. Under Taft-Hartley, an injunction can be ordered if national health and safety are jeopardized by a strike.
The suit lists planning and logistics officials from the departments of Transportation, Energy, Defense and Health, Education and Welfare.
As he went into negotiations yesterday, Teamster President Frand Fitzsimmons said the union has not decided what action it will take if no settlement is reached by Saturday. "We'll make that decision later on," he said.
Alternatives include selective strikes, a nationwide walkout or an extension of negotiations beyond the deadline.
Fitzsimmons was noncommittal about the prospects for a settlement, but the suit asserted that union and industry bargainers are further apart than they were in 1976, when a three-day national strike occurred before a settlement was reached. It said that "in all likelihood" no agreement will be reached before Saturday's deadline.