President Carter, confronted with a potentially devastating blow to his anti-inflation guidelines, last night summoned executives of the United Rubber Workers union and the "Big Four" rubber companies to separate meetings at the White House today.
The White House said the meetings with top presidential economic advisers were aimed at achieving a "fair settlement that meets the anti-inflation pay standards."
Shortly after White House announced the meetings, URW President Peter Bommarito told reporters the pact he is attempting to negotiate is "exceptional . . . it exceeds the president's guidelines tremendously."
He said cost increases in the wage package exceed 30 percent-roughly the size of the tentative Teamster settlement negotiated last week-but declined to give further details.
Bommarito also said top union officers, in a meeting last night in Columbus, Ohio, gave him authority to strike Uniroyal Inc. if "in my estimation" two knotty issues can't be resolved before the current contracts with Uniroyal, Goodyear, Firestone and Goodrich expire at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.
But he said he expected to resume negotiations with Uniroyal shortly and was not bound to strike the company if a contract was not reached before midnight.
Earlier in the day, Bommarito made a surprize announcement that the union, which represents roughly 55,000 workers at the four companies, had reached agreement on major money issues with Uniroyal, Firestone and Goodrich. He said he expected Goodyear to follow the pattern set by the other three firms.
Bommarito's claim of near-agreement was immediately denied by the three companies. They issued a joint statement saying, "Each of the companies emphasized that, although progress has been made, no agreement exists on most major economic issues."
Some industry and government officials speculated that Bommarito's announcement was a bargaining ploy aimed at whipsawing the companies, which negotiate separately with the union, into a pattern agreement.
However, Bommarito accused Uniroyal of unraveling the agreement. He said [they] went back on their word because of a weak individual who would not stand up to what he had agreed to."
Bommarito identified the unresolved issues as cost-of-living protection and the union's demand for a company hands-off policy toward union organizing of nonunion plants, similar to one won by the United Auto Workers with General Motors last year.
Bommarito's report of agreement on money issues prompted the calling of an emergency meeting of many of Carter's key economic advisers and the eventual White House summons to Bommarito and the chief executive officers of the four companies.
In the statement issued shortly before midnight, the White House said Carter directed Labor Secretary Ray Marshall, presidential inflation adivser Alfred . Kahn and chief economic adviser Charles L. Schultze to set up the meetings in order to "reaffirm the strong and continued interest of the federal government in a fair settlement that meets the anti-inflation pay standards."
The statement said the administration will not attempt to dictate terms of the settlement but will "discuss with the parties the critical importance to the nation's anti-inflation effort that this settlement be within the pay standards.
Rubber industry negotiations are the third collective bargaining test of the administration's voluntary anti-inflation guidelines whicb include a nominal 7 percent ceiling for annual wage and benefit increases. The rubber companies went into the negotiations vowing to stick by the guidelines, but Bommarito said he would not abide by them.
In the biggest previous test of the standards, the Teamsters and major trucking firms last week concluded a tentative agreement that stretched-but did not technically break-the standard.
Teamster and trucking industry negotiators said the contract would increase labor costs by a at least 30 percent over three years, but the government, by counting various exemptions and using relatively low cost-of-living projections, said the pact came within the guidelines, which allow 22.5 percent (7 percent compounded) over three years.
In January, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers negotiated a contract for refinery employes that was within the guidelines but included a wage re-opener.
Asked about applicability of the guidelines to his union, Bommarito told reporters in Columbus, "I don't even believe there are any guidelines." He added, "I don't expect rubber workers to be second-class citizens."