The United Rubber Workers, accusing President Carter of "illegal meddling" in contract bargaining, asked a federal court yesterday to bar the administration from trying to force the tire industry into complying with its anti-inflation wage and price guidelines.
The union sought an immediate court order to stop Carter's inflation fighters from threating to withhold federal contracts - amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars a year from the "big four" rubber companies if they sign contracts exceeding the wage-price standards.
The motion, filed as part of an earlier AFL-CIO suit attacking guideline sanctions, contends that the administration has no legal authority to penalize violators, and charges that contract debarment threats violate unions' rights to free collective bargaining.
The URW imposed a Friday Midnight strike deadline against Uniroyal Inc., the nation's third largest tire maker, after accusing the company of backing off a tentative agreement under heavy pressure from the administration.
Government sources have said the proposed settlement would have increased wage and benefit costs for the industry by about 40 percent over three years. The guidelines seek to limit wage-benefit increases to 7 percent a year, or 22.5 percent compounded over three years.
The URW's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the government, coupled with a personal appeal to Carter from URW President Peter Bommarito, was seen as a last-ditch attempt by the union to avoid a strike against the financially shaky Uniroyal.
With the government out of the picture, the URW and Uniroyal could settle their differences "in a relatively short time," Bommarito told reporters shortly after filing the injunction motion at U.S. District Court here. He also said he would consider postponing the strike deadline if court proceedings were scheduled or underway Friday.
Judge Barrington Parker set a conference for today on scheduling for the case.
There have been no negotiations between the URW and Uniroyal since last Thursday, when federal mediators broke off the stalled talks. Bommarito said he understood that talks would resume today, but mediators had not scheduled anything late yesterday and chances of a settlement by Friday night were viewed as remote, at best.
In a strongly worded telegram to Carter, Bommarito took issue with the president's assertion last week that the administration was not involved in the bargaining, and charged that "your representatives are involved . . . up to their necks." the union leader called on Carter to "remove the hypocrisy from your 'voluntary' wage-price program" by withdrawing all threats of contracts debarment.
Administration officials pointedly reminded rubber company executives of the contract sanctions at a White House meeting last month. Uniroyal, while denying that it made any agreement with URW, has acknowledged being under heavy government pressure to comply with the guidelines.
The four major rubber companies - Goodyear, Firestone, Uniroyal and Goodrich - sell products ranging from tires to aerospace equipment to a variety of government agencies. The four companies' business with the Defense Department, General Services Administration and Postal Service amounted to roughly $278 million last year.
The URW, in its lawsuit, contended that the government's intervention has "brought the parties from the prospect of a peaceful settlement . . . to the brink of a strike that no one desires and that will cause irreparable injury to all concerned."
The URW has been working without a contract at all four companies since April 20, but only Uniroyal, with 8,200 of 55,000 "Big Four" URW workers, has been designated as a strike target.
The union's reluctance to strike the company is compounded by the fact that, as the financially weakest of the four companies, Uniroyal has closed a number of domestic plants in recent years and is expected by industry observers to slash production and jobs ever further if it is hit with a protracted strike.
In a speech Tuesday in Chicago, chief federal mediator Wayne L. Horvitz acknowledged that a strike would be against the guidelines.
"So far this year," Horvitz added, "there is no question, at least in the major [bargaining] situations, that the voluntary guidelines have made major collective bargaining well nigh impossible along traditional terms."
At the same gathering, John Gentry, a deputy anti-inflation adviser, conceded that the guidelines, stretched in the recent Teamser negotiations, are "in serious difficulty" because workers' expections have been raised by continuing price increases.
Presidential press secretary Jody Powell, responding to Bommarito's criticism, said, "it's not the first time and undoubtedly won't be the last time" that someone objects to the anti-inflation program, and he reiterated that Carter intends to stand by it. CAPTION: Picture, United Rubber President Peter Bommarito gestures with legal papers as he nears U.S. District Court here. AP