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Unions ease demands to help out employers

America's two largest unions are drafting bargaining plans that may help solve the problems of their ailing employers. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) are considering what they see as responsible and creative bargaining approaches to new contracts in 1982 -- or sooner.

The memberships of both unions have been suffering from heavy layoffs in the last two years and each plans to stress job security more than wage gains in coming contract negotiations.

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Other unions always watch the trucking and auto unions closely when they go to the bargaining tables; generally, they have the militancy and power to wrest settlements that set precedents in other negotiations.

If they settle moderately, stressing jobs and other noneconomic issues over pay. The impact is likely to be important in 1982, a heavy bargaining year for millions of workers in major industries.

In the trucking and auto industries:

* Teamsters contracts run to March 31, 1982. The industry has proposed negotiating for a settlement before the end of this year, noting that unionized trucking companies are under a heavy financial strain as a result of industry deregulation, economic conditions, and a 1979 contract that has already raised wages 35 percent.

The union turned down a similar request a year ago. But since that time the unionized segment of the industry has lost more ground, and there have been heavy layoffs. The number working under the IBT's national freight contract has dropped from around 450,000 to less than 300,000.

Roy Williams, the IBT's new president, told a Teamsters executive board and national negotiating committee conference in Chicago Sept. 14 that the union might have to make concessions to help the industry stay alive and preserve jobs. Salvatore Provenzano, an IBT vice-president, and other top leaders of the 2.2 million-member union agreed that "some national modifications" of the national contract might be in order to offset "negative effects to deregulation, " which Mr. Provenzano said "is hurting the industry badly."

Some trucking employers have persuaded employees to accept pay cuts of up to 15 percent to avert shutdowns of layoffs. While the industry would like a rollback of wages, the IBT appears unlikely to do more than hold wage increases to cost-of-living adjustments in a new contract and to negotiate on work-rule changes that could reduce costs. In return, the union would seek tighter job security.

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* United Automobile Workers demands in 1982 will stress jobs rather than wages, according to Douglas A. Fraser, the UAW's president. Mr. Fraser told a Detroit Economic Club meeting on Sept. 14 that the past 18 months have been "the most difficult time in the history of the union," with 150,000 laid off in the industry's big-three companies and with the companies showing a $4 billion loss.

The auto contracts run to Sept. 15, 1982, but the industry has urged earlier bargaining -- Roger B. Smith, chairman of General Motors, said Sept. 14, "Even tomorrow wouldn't be too soon." Mr. Smith said the industry needs UAW help: typically, GM's labor costs are about 80 percent higher than those of Japanese competitors. Smith stressed that GM does not want to bargain for wage concessions that would "harm the life styles" of employees but would like to ease restrictive work rules, reduce absenteeism, and improve productivity and quality.

Mr. Fraser was not specific on wages but suggested that pay would be given a lower priority than job security. The UAW has a virtually guaranteed annual wage. However, the guarantee is only for 52 weeks and for many furloughed auto workers that guaranteed pay has run out or is about to.

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