The United Rubber Workers yesterday struck Uniroyal Inc., the nation's third largest and financially weakest tire maker, in a direct clash over the Carter administration's anti-inflation wage guidelines.
Blaming the administration for a bargaining impasse with the company the URW pulled its 8,200 Uniroyal workers off the job after its noon negotiating deadline passed without a settlement.
Twelve plants in the East and Midwest were struck, four tire plants and eight facilities involved in production of other rubber products, plastics and chemicals. While the unionized tire plants are expected to shut down, non-union tire plants in Oklahoma, Mexico and Canada will continue operating and supervisory employes will attempt to sustain production at chemical and plastic facilities, the company said.
A uniroyal official said service to customers will continue "in the near term" but refused to say how long that would be. Other sources suggested inventories are probably sufficient to last four to six weeks.
No further contract talks between Uniroyal and the URW were scheduled. Several sources familiar with the negotiations suggested that serious bargaining may not occur until a federal judge rules - presumably later this month - on a union suit challenging enforcement of the guideline program.
The strike, which is not expected to have any immediate economic impact outside of the rubber industry, climaxed a bizarre three-week collective bargaining exercise that started with an announcement of an impending settlement and ended in deep, rancorous disagreement.
It included a high-level White House meeting, a flurry of litigation, a ceaseless barrage of charges and denials and several strike threats - but not much negotiating in the normal sense of the word.
URW President Peter Bommarito called it "Carter's strike." Government officials, while cringing at the sound of the words, undicated they were encouraged by Uniroyal's willingness to take a strike rather than violate the guidelines.
The URW and Uniroyal began their seemingly inexorable drift toward a strike on April 18 when Bommarito announced agreement on major economic issues with three of the "big foour" rubber companies. The companies immediately denied the claim, and Bommarito charged that the settlement collapsed when Uniroyal, the linchpin company, reneged under administration pressure.
Uniroyal later claimed in full-page newspaper advertisements that it never proposed to violate the guidelines, but government officials said the union and the company were perilously close to an agreement that could have cost the industry 40 percent more in labor costs over the next three years - nearly twice what the guidelines would allow.
The guidelines seek to limit wage and benefit increase to 7 percent a year, or 22.5 percent compounded over three years - which Bommarito says is not enough. They were stretched to accommodate a 30 percent Teamster settlement last month and would have been "devastated" by a 40 percent rubber agreement, one official conceded.
After the union's old contract with Uniroyal, Goodyear, Goodrich and Firestone ran out April 20, the union and Uniroyal continued negotiating in fits and starts, largely arguing over what they did and didn't agree to before April 18.
Bommarito, conscious of both Uniroyal's financial wobbliness and his own record of never negotiating a contract without a strike, kept the union working through two bargaining deadlines. But, apparently under heavy internal union pressure, he acted Monday night to set a final strike deadline, and kept it.
I'm terribly disappointed in the attitude of the company. This is one of those things that never should have happened." said Bommarito.
And the company said, "We certainly regret the action taken by the [union] in calling this strike, and we stand prepared at any time to resume negotiations toward a settlement."
Some industry sources believe Uniroyal, which has closed a number of plants in recent years, could be forced to squeeze production - and jobs - even more if the strike is a protracted one. None of the other companies is under a strike threat for the foreseeable future, said a union spokesman.
The URW's and AFL-CIO's suit against the guidelines seeks an injunction to stop the government from threatening to deny federal contracts to guideline violators, as it did in the rubber negotiations. U.S. District Court Judge Barrington Parker has scheduled a hearing May 17. CAPTION: Picture 1, Members of United Rubber Workers union picket Uniroyal plant in Detroit after walkout began yesterday. AP; Picture 2, sign expresses dissatisfaction with Carter administration's proposed wage limits.