The United Rubber Workers yesterday called off a midnight strike against Uniroyal Inc. after a federal judge cleared the way for fast action on the union's suit to block the Carter administration from enforcing its anti-inflation guidelines.
While rejecting the URW's bid for a temporary restraining order to stop the government from threatening to deny federal contracts to guideline violators, U.S. District Court Judge Barrington Parker agreed to expedite a decision on whether the sanctions are legal.
He scheduled a hearing for May 17, and indicated that a ruling could be expected shortly thereafter.
The judge's refusal to grant the restraining order amounted to a reprieve, perhaps more, for the government in its attempt to keep the guidelines alive in the face of rising prices, costly union contract demands and legal assaults. As restraining order, the government had argued, would have severely compromised the program.
At the same time, the expedited handling of the case gave the union a legitimate of the case gave the union a legitimate reason to put off a strike it didn't want to call and some hope that it could get the government out of its hari before settling on a new three-year contract.
Whether the rubber industry was any closer to a resolution of its tangled contract dispute was unclear.
URW President Peter Bommarito said contract negotiations with Uniroyal will resume Monday in New York, but said he won't attend the talks until Uniroyal brings in a negotiator with power to consummate an agreement.
Bommarito contends that Uniroyal reneged on a negotiated agreement last month under government pressure, a charge the company denies. However, Uniroyal yesterday was reportedly looking for a negotiator who might be satisfactory to Bommarito.
In the meantime, Bommarito told reporters, strike action against Uniroyal, which had been scheduled for midnight last night, would be suspended on a day-to-day basis, depending on progress in the talks. The union's 55,000 workers at Uniroyal, have been working under daily contract extensions since the old agreement expired April 20.
"We don't want our people walking the streets, and we don't want to do any harm to any company," said Bommarito, in an apparent reference to Uniroyal's vulnerability as the financially weakest of the four companies.
According to government officials, the agreement that Bommarito claimed to have with Uniroyal would have yielded industrywide wage and benefit increases of 40 percent over three years, far in excess of the 7 per-cent annual ceiling envisioned in the guidelines.
Contending that the company backed off the agreement after the government threatened the company with contract debarment, Bommarito, backed by the AFL-CIO, went into court earlier this weekd to get an injunction against further interference by the government.
"This court is not convinved at this time that a temporary restraining order is warranted," Parker said yesterday after hearing briefly from AFL-CIO and Justice Department lawyers. But he said the ruling was "no clear indication of what I would do on the merits" of the case, and added that "at first blush" the AFL-CIO and URW appeared to have a strong argument.
At the same time, however, he gave heavy weight to the "public interest" in the dispute and said at one point that, "Inflation is one of the most serious problems we have . . . It's double-digit. . . . The government is making an effort to deal with it."
It was hard for the judge to bring the whole thing [the anti-inflation program] down, Bommarito said afterward.
In arguments over the restraining order, Assistant Attorney General Barbara Babcock said a restraining order would create "confusion and havoc" in the government's efforts to control inflation by voluntary guidelines.
"The signal [would have gone] out of this court that the president's program is in trouble in the courts," Babcock said, contending that, despite the AFL-CIO's charges, there is ample authority in federal law for the anti-in-flation enforcement efforts.
Arguing for the RUW, AFL-CIO counsel Laurence Gold contended that Congress has consciously avoided giving the president authority to cut off federal contracts to force compliance with voluntary guidelines.
Congress recognized this was "very strong medicine" and purposefully declined to prescribes it, Gold added.
Parker said he was expediting the suit to "give this matter every priority it deserves," and suggested, but did not order, that the union withhold strike action until the case is resolved.
Bommarito said later the company had requested a resumption of negotiations several times in conversations over the last two days. He said he agreed to talk, but would continue to demand a settlement based on the union's earlier proposal.
He said he would not be bound by the guidelines. A Uniroyal spokesman said the company would continue to insist on terms "substantially in line" with the guidelines. CAPTION: Picture 1, PETER BOMMARITO; Picture 2, BARRINGTON PARKER . . . union president says negotiations to resume, after ruling by federal judge.