The White House intensified presure on the "Big Four" rubber companies to stick by its imperiled anti-inflation guidelines yesterday as the United Rubber Workers spurned the government's intervention but agreed not to go on strike this weekend.
The union' s decision to continue working on a "day-to-day basis" and resume negotiations on Monday came only hours before its contracts with the rubber firms expired at 12:01 a.m. today.
It also followed a meeting at the White House during which presidential economics advisers vowed to use "every means at our disposal" - including denial of federal contracts - to obtain a guidelines-complying contract.
The meeting was attended by the chief executive officers of Goodyear, Firestone, Unrioyal and Goodrich rubber companies, but a separately scheduled session was boycotted by URW President Peter Bommarito, who is reported to have said he did not want to be lectured again about the guidelines.
High administration officials hastily arranged the separate meetings after receiving reports that the URW was claiming imminent agreement with at least three companies on a money package that would break the guildelines.
The companies denied the claim, but remors persisted that Bommarito was trying to wrap up a settlement providing for an increase of at least 40 percent in wages and benefits over three years - far in excess of the Teamsters' guideline-stretching 30 percent agreement last week.
Bommarito accused Unrioyal of torpedoing the agreement by reneging at the last minute on cost-of-living and union-security pledges. Later, after conferring with top union officers, we targeted the large but financially vulnerable company as the union's chief strike target.
But he indicated a strike would be called only if a settlement appeared out of the question. Late yesterday he bowed to a request from chief federal mediator Wayne L. Horvitz for a deferral of any strike action pending a resumption of negotiations here on Monday.
At first Bommarito administration officials he would attend yesterday's White House meeting, which had been arranged at the direction of President Carter. He backed out, he said when he learned the meeting was called to discuss the guidelines. He said he originally thought it was to discuss his dispute with Uniroyal.
Government industry and union officials confirmed yesterday that the reported "agreement" included labor cost increases of 40 percent or more over three years - vastly beyond the administration's nominal standard of 7 percent annually for wages and benefits or 22.5 percent compounded over three years.
While anti-inflation officals managed to squeeze the Teamster settlement into the guildelines by liberal use of exemptions and low cost-of-living estimates, they conceded that there is no way a 40 percent settlement coudl be shoehorned into the guidelines.
The White House intercession, the first since its heavy involvement in the coal strike more than a year ago, underscored the critical importance of the rubber talks to the survival of the voluntary wage restraint program.
Earlier this week, United Auto Workers president Douglas A. Fraser said the program had "self-destructed" in the Teamster negotiations and was no longer a factor in contract bargaining including the WAW's own negotiations this summer.
In opening the discussions with industry executives, presidential inflation adviser Alferd E. Kahn insisted that the guidelines are still intact. "It is our view that the guidelines are alive, and we have every intention of using whatever power is at our disposal to see that they are complied with," he said.
Later he told reporters that this includes denial of federal contracts - worth millions of dollars to the rubber industry - to any company that breaks through the guidelines.
After the meeting, government sources said the executives reaffirmed their intention to abide by the guidelines, although it was not immediately clear how they could not do so if Bommarito refuses to back down on his claimed agreement.
Bommarito, talking to reporters from the union's headquarters in Akron, Ohio, reaffirmed his intention to disregard the guidelines. "If, through their mathematic gymnastics, the government can find a way to state that our agreement is in compliance with the guidelines, I have no objection," he said. "I do not, however, intend to be a party to it."
According to a source close to the talks Bommarito put together his "agreement" in what amounted to shuttle-negotiations on Wednesday.
First he got a general understanding from Uniroyal executives that they would endorse certain union economic proposals if the URW could help on company pension funding problems and could get one or more other companies to get along with the contract proposals the source said. Firestone was no problem because it already had a "me-too" agreement with the union to do whatever the other companies did. Then, reportedly, Goodrich indicated that it, too would follow the industry pattern, as is the custom in rubber negotiations.
On this basis, Bommarito claimed agreement on major economic issues with the three companies, only to have them object that this was not what they had in mind.
The union is reportedly seeking, besides large wage and benefit increases, a substantial fattening of its cost-of-living formula, job security protections and a neutrality pledge under which companies would not resist union organizing at new plants, including those built in the South to escape the costs of unionism. Members currently earn an average of $8 an hour. CAPTION: Picture, PETER BOMMARITO . . .boycotts White House meeting