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Oil talks showdown could signal labor fireworks in '82

The first serious labor dispute of 1982 could flare up quickly in the US oil refinery, petrochemical, and pipeline industry following a union rejection of contract offers from three major companies.

Robert F. Goss, president of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers, said Dec. 30 that OCAW negotiators in Denver rejected an offer of 12 percent over two years as ''ridiculous'' and demanded, by Jan. 4, an improved proposal.

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Current contracts covering 55,000 workers and 100 employers expire at midnight Jan. 7. Unless there is progress to report when the union's National Oil Bargaining Policy Committee meets Jan. 4, strike action will be considered. A 1980 walkout, after 11 strike-free years, lasted four months.

While the oil bargaining is not expected to set a pattern for 1982, a year that will see heavy negotiations in major industries, its mood is an indication of what could be ahead. Major employers in the industry are taking a hard line against another large settlement, while oil workers -- hit hard by inflation -- insist that wages should rise substantially. A ''no layoff'' provision should be added to contracts to protect jobs and a new and improved pension program should be put into effect throughout the industry, the union says.

The initial offer by Shell Oil, Amoco, and Gulf Oil, meanwhile, is defended by the companies as ''fair and reasonable'' considering conditions in the industry and the national economy. The proposals made first by Shell and then by Gulf and Amoco would raise pay 7 percent in 1982 and another 5 percent in 1983. The wage offer was hardly half of what ACAW demanded and was below the average raise levels nationally in 1980 and 1981. None of the three offers met the union's ''no layoff'' or retirement plan demands.

On other bargaining fronts at the end of 1981:

* The Food and Commercial Workers approved new contracts with two major meatpacking companies, Armour & Co. and Wilson Food Corporation, agreeing on a wage freeze at 1981 levels in return for job and union security protection through August 1985.

Meatpacking contracts normally would run to August 1982. The reopening was due, both sides agreed, to the fact that major firms ''were rapidly becoming vulnerable to severe competitive pressures from lower-wage operators.''

The concessions, which included deferral of cost-of-living adjustments until a lump-sum payment in December 1983, were granted, the union said, to protect wages from rollbacks and to win a pledge that major companies will not shut down any plants for at least 18 months.

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* United Automobile Workers bargaining councils for General Motors and Ford will meet in Chicago Jan. 8 to consider reopening contracts and granting concessions. UAW's executive board lifted a ban on renegotiations Dec. 9 and authorized each bargaining council to decide whether to reopen contracts that would normally run to Sept. 15, 1982.

Don Ephlin, a UAW vice-president who heads the Ford department, plans to discuss with the Ford council ''the disastrous shape Ford is in and what can be done to protect the jobs of Ford workers.'' Owen Bieber, his counterpart in the GM department, says ''prospects . . . don't look optimistic. The time has come to meet as a council and talk.''

Ford and GM, which say they must lower labor costs, call the UAW moves ''a positive step.''

* Early bargaining continues in the trucking industry, where employers are seeking wage and other concessions. Teamster negotiators seem willing to give some ground - perhaps even a wage or benefits freeze, along with work rules changes that would cut employers' labor costs. The long-haul or freight contract covering 300,000 workers runs to April 1, 1982, but a settlement is expected early in January.

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