The new Teamsters contract that was close to being settled last night may come close to squeezing under the Carter administration's newly relaxed pay standard-but not quite.
What that may mean for the administration's anti-inflation program is not clear.
To help achieve a settlement, Carter administration officials decided this week to add a new exception to the rules, to keep the Teamsters from blowing the entire wage-price program sky-high.
The pay standard, requires that wages be measured "point to point" - that is, from what they were at the end of the previous efforts to control inflation, pay increases and changes in benefits were usually "time weighted," so that an immediate rise counted three times as heavily as something received only for the third year of a contract.
From the beginning of Carter's program last October, the rules have said that cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) would be priced as if inflation were running at a steady 6 percent a year. That's the first big adjustment to make to fit the 30 percent the Teamsters will be saying they got under the pay standard.
Both management and the union apparently have been assuming an 8 1/2 percent inflation rate, or about 7 1/2 percentage points more inflation over three years than using a 6-percent assumption. Since the Teamsters Colas have usually covered only two-thirds of the increase in the Consumer Price Index, and probably still will, the higher inflation assumption adds about 5 percent to the total cost of the contract over three years.
The reduces 30 percent to 25 percent.
Early on, the administration made another concession designed primarily to fit the Teamsters situation. Any compliance with federal law would not be counted as a pay increase.
That is worth another 1 1/2 percent to the Teamsters over the three years, according to osme estimates, and the 25 percent becomes 23 1/2 percent.
Then plug in the new exception, which works this way:
In a large number of labor negotiations involving contracts with COLAs, the amount of money that would be due under the COLA but not yet paid when the old contract expires is often regarded by both management and labor as "old money."
The Teamsters in the past have had three-year contracts in which there have been only two annual COLApay increases. The last such increase was on April 1, 1978. Under their COLA, the union figures, its members would be due a 58-cent-an-hour pay hike tomorrow.
The new wrinkle that the Council on Wage and Price Stability hit upon this week is to apply the principle of counting the value of all COLAs as if inflation were running at a 6-percent rate-which already is the rule for future COLA pay increases-to "old money" as well.
Applying this new exception to the 58 cents will not be counted as part of the cost, for purposes of the pay standard.