Trucking industry pact meshes with Reagan 'hands-off' policy

A tentative labor contract settlement in the trucking industry, including concessions by one of the country's most militant unions, has reinforced the Reagan administration's determined hands-off policy toward bargaining.

A second dramatic set of negotiations in the auto industry has run into some difficulties - General Motors and the United Automobile Workers are far apart on the dollar value of union concessions needed to boost auto sales. But the talks in Detroit are expected to bring another settlement that the administration will be able to hail as a victory for free and responsible labor-management bargaining.

Early in 1981, the White House abolished the Council on Wage and Price Stability, left over from the Carter administration, and made clear that it had no intention of returning to the various forms of controls in effect during the regimes of Presidents Nixon and Carter.

The Reagan administration would not, it said, resort to ''jaw-boning'' and other pressures to achieve moderation in collective bargaining: It would leave to labor and management, negotiating in the realities of a weak economy, responsibility for settling reasonably.

The agreement reached Jan. 15 between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and Trucking Mangement Inc. (TMI), the joint bargaining representative of major long-haul or highway trucking employers, is the first major settlement reached in the ''cooperative atmosphere'' sought by the administration.

Its terms were not announced immediately, but Roy L. Williams, president of the Teamsters, and Arthur H. Bunte Jr., head of TMI, left no doubt that the union had made substantial concessions.

''The new pact will enhance our companies' ability to compete in an economy weakened by adverse conditions,'' Mr. Bunte said.

The two men, who led the negotiations that began quietly last November, said in a joint statement that the settlement ''reflected the mutual desire and commitment of both parties to improve conditions in the economically strapped trucking industry.''

Mr. Williams expressed confidence that the agreement ''will preserve the jobs of those now employed (about 300,000 nationally) and will help regain the thousands of jobs lost through layofs and business failures in the trucking industry.''

The national agreement expires March 31, but the two sides agreed last fall to negotiate early. The current contracts pay about $12.96 an hour, with an additional $4 an hour in cost of living adjustments (COLA) under a formula calling for increases evey six months as living costs go up. Health and welfare benefits, other fringes (such as paid time off and vacations), and restrictive work rules add substantially to the total labor costs of unionized employers.

Nonunion trucking companies with smaller labor costs have made large inroads into the union truckers' business since the industry has been deregulated. The new and less costly Teamsters contract is intended to make union employers more competitive by helping them lower rates.

Early in the negotiations, the possibility of a wage freeze was discussed. Cost of living raises would be continued. In subsequent barganing, IBT is reported to have agreed to divert part of its COLA money to help employers pay increasing health and welfare benefits, and it also has been reported to be giving up or modifying some costly work rules.

Some of those changes would increase the profitability of unionized long-haul employers.

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