Rubber industry contract talks collapsed last night in a confrontation over Carter administration anti-inflation guidelines. The United Rubber Workers union said it will decide Monday whether to strike Uniroyal Inc., the nation's third-largest tire producer.
After four days of negotiations that failed to narrow differences between the URW and Uniroyal, chief federal mediator Wayne L. Horvitz told reporters he suspended the talks because it would be "unrealistic and impractical to go on."
The URW's contract expired last Friday. Since then, the nation has postponed its strike deadline from day to day.
URW President Peter Bommarito, reiterating his charge that Uniroyal reneged on a contract settlement last week under pressure from federal anti-inflation fighters, said he was leaving immediately for Akron, Ohio, the union's home base, where URW officials will meet Monday to consider a strike against Uniroyal or "two or three other" unspecified options.
The union was trying to negotiate a contract with Uniroyal that would become a pattern for 55,000 URW workers at the "Big Four" rubber companies-Goodyear, Firestone, B.F., Goodrich and Uniroyal.
However, Bommarito reportedly has been reluctant to strike the company, and he spent much of yesterday attempting to find alternatives to a strike. Uniroyal, with 8,200 URW workers at a dozen plants, is the financially shakiest of the four major rubber companies and could be forced to close some of its operations in a protracted strike, some industry experts believe.
If the union strikes Uniroyal, it would be the second walkout this year to be prompted by the administration's efforts to keep annual wage and benefit increases within its nominal 7 percent guideline. Earlier this month a combined Teamsters' strike and trucking industry lockout lasted 10 days before producing a contract that union and industry sources said would add at least 30 percent to labor costs over three years.
Administration officials conceded that the guidelines were "bent" to accomodate the Teamster settlement, but held firm against further stretching of the standards to embrace a settlement of 40 percent or more.
For a three-year contract, the guideline ceiling is 22.5 percent (7 percent a year compounded).
Administration officials said it would have been possible for Uniroyal, which has a higher compensation base than the rest of the industry and qualifies for guideline exemptions because of special pension problems, to come close to the guidelines under the union's proposal. But they said the industry-wide average for wage and benefit increases would have amounted to about 40 percent over three years-far in excess of the guidelines.
Uniroyal, while acknowledging it has been under heavy government pressure to stick by the guidelines, insisted it never agreed on economic terms with the URW, despite Bommarito's repeated assertions that it did.
In explaining the union's departure from the talks, Bommarito said company officials even went so far as to ask him to get approval from Firestone and Goodrich for a statement last week announcing the agreement. He accused Uniroyal negotiators of "lying" and said he told company executives he would not return to the bargaining table until Uniroyal changed its negotiating team. "There is no way the people who sat across the table can negotiate with the URW," he said.
But he said he believes the government and its guidelines are the "main stumblinb block" and added: "I don't believe the government . . . has a right under voluntary controls to impose sanctions for exceeding the guidelines."
Top administration officials have threatened to use not only public condemnation, but also withdrawal of federal contracts-which camount to hundreds of millions of dollars for the rubber companies-if the guidelines are breached.
Horvitz said he will meet with officials of the four companies today to brief them on the situation and that he will stay in touch with Uniroyal and the URW over the weekend but does not expect a resumption of talks before Monday. "I think the situation is serious," he added.