Public-sector unions prepare for some heavy bargaining in '85

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A relatively light bargaining year for private-industry workers, a relatively heavy one for public-sector employees. This is how 1985 appears to be shaping up for organized labor.

More than 1 million state and municipal government employees will be involved in contract negotiations in 1985. This represents slightly more than half of those covered nationally by labor agreements in the public sector.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, says locals of the union are ''poised for aggressive bargaining.'' So are local governments with budget and tax problems.

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In industry, trucking contracts covering more than 100,000 drivers and helpers must be renegotiated by the industry and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, led by Jackie Presser. The negotiations, expected to be at their heaviest in March, will be complicated by the split-up of the industry into two groups of employers: those engaging in coordinated bargaining and an increasing number of independent employers who will seek their own contract.

Other major industrial talks during the year include men's and women's apparel, rubber, electrical products, and automobile manufacturing, particularly involving the Chrysler Corporation and the United Automobile Workers in a holdover from the big auto bargaining of 1984.

Hundreds of thousands of construction workers in a dozen or more unions will be involved in widely scattered local negotations. Robert Georgine, head of AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, says he looks for another difficult year for negotiators. This comes largely as the result of economic conditions and high unemployment among building tradesmen.

The 1985 state and local government bargaining calendar, while smaller than its private-sector counterpart in the number of contracts to be renegotiated, 288, and the number of workers involved, about 1.1 million, looms more important next year because it will cover 55 percent of all state or local government employees under labor contracts.

Difficult bargaining could be ahead, beginning in June, when talks are expected to be at their heaviest.

Already, the pressures for substantial ''earned'' wage and benefit gains for public employees are being felt in New York City, where large units of police, firemen, sanitation workers, and other public employees have been negotiating well in advance of 1985 contract dates.

Overall, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that contracts covering more than 3.5 million of the 9.4 million employees under major collective bargaining agreements will either expire or be reopened in 1985 , an off year for major bargaining.

Unions generally are expected to demand larger wage increases than those in recent years, and to press militantly for job security and benefit increases, but the general outlook is for continuing relatively light pay hikes. Observers expect most to be in a 5.8 percent to 6.5 percent range - about the same as in 1984.

About 3.8 million of those workers whose contracts not subject to renegotiation in 1985 will receive deferred wage increases averaging about 4 percent. Those employed in the private sector will average 3.7 percent and those in government employment 5.5 percent. According to the BLS, the deferred raises in private industry (negotiated in 1982 or later) will be the lowest since the agency began compiling such information in 1970.

Cost-of-living adjustment clauses that cover more than 4 million workers are expected to bring wage increases for 2.4 million workers in 1985, about 58 percent of the total covered by COLA.

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