Negotiators for the trucking industry and the striking Teamsters union agreed yesterday to return to the bargaining table tomorrow as the government braced for escalating economic disruption from the week-old work stoppage.
Chief federal mediator Wayne L. Horvitz said last night that the talks are scheduled to resume Monday afternoon, three days after they broke off in a mutual refusal to compromise over money issues that prompted a combined strike and industry lockout last weekend.
The two parties are reportedly dug in on either side of the Carter administration's voluntary anti-inflation guideline for wage increases, which is facing a critical test in the Teamster bargaining and an uncertain future if the trucking settlement breaches the already relaxed standard.
Only a few days remain, government officials figure, before the trucking shutdown, which has already begun to cripple the auto industry, starts taking a heavier economic toll by spreading to other industries and affecting the flow of consumer goods.
But for the time being, the Labor Department said Friday, no problems have arisen in transporting food or fuel, although some military shipments have been delayed. By sometime this week, the report said, more than 200,000 auto workers, roughly 1 in 4, will be laid off. Industry sources say it's only a matter of time before production grinds to a halt, at a cost of about $350 million a day.
The resumption of talks tomorrow is one ray of hope that the strike-lock-out can be ended before economic disruption reaches the point where the government must decided whether to seek a Taft-Hartley injunction to get the truckers back in business, at least for an 80-day cooling-off period. Such a decision could come toward the end of the week, one official said Friday.
Trucking officials claim their lock-out covers about 500 firms employing 235,000 of the 300,000 Teamster drivers and warehouse workers covered by the union's master freight agreement. When the old agreement expired March 30 with the two sides still in disagreement over money, the union called selective strikes against 73 firms, and Trucking Management Inc. retaliated with a "defensive shut down" by nearly all 500 member firms.
Most of the nation's general commodity carriers outside of the sparsely-unionized South have been shut down, although specialized carriers handling such items as food and fuel are relatively unaffected.
When the strike-lockout started, the two sides were separated by about 25 cents an hour in cost-of-living adjustments, with the industry coming in just under-and the union about 2 percentage points over-the administration's guideline for pay increases of 22.5 percent over three years (7 percent a year compounded).
The companies claim that, when items excluded from guideline computations are counted, their offer would cost more than 30 percent over three years.
Industry officials are balking at giving more because of fear that the Interstate Commerce Commission won't approve rate increases to cover labor costs in excess of the guidelines, and because high rates would make it harder for Teamster-organized firms to compete with non-Teamster operators. The union complains that the companies aren't offering enough to keep workers abreast of inflation.
The first post-strike bargaining round, which started Thursday morning and broke off Friday afternoon, resulted in no progress, according to mediator Horvitz. There had been speculation that no breakthrough would occur until the industry lockout was tested for at least one week.