Greyhound buses are expected to be back on the highways with union drivers during the Christmas travel season after a contract settlement that was ''overwhelmingly approved'' by union negotiators late Saturday.
The terms, a compromise between Greyhound Lines' demands for labor cost cuts and the union's rejection of concessions, were not announced immediately. However, spokesmen for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) said the union is confident strikers will approve the settlement in ratification votes Dec. 19 or 20.
If they do, the walkout that began Nov. 2 will be over.
Kay McMurray, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who had called Greyhound and union negotiators to Washington, said late Saturday, ''It looks like we have an agreement by the parties and the problem is over. I don't think there will be any trouble about ratification.''
A Greyhound negotiator said cautiously, ''The strike should be over soon.''
Greyhound's 7,500 drivers and 5,200 mechanics and other employees will remain on strike until the ratification votes are counted. They earlier voted 9,181 to 325 against accepting a contract proposal by Greyhound. Union leaders called that proposal ''unacceptable,'' but submitted the terms to a vote anyway.
Strikers vowed then to stay on picket lines ''all winter or as long as it takes'' to win a satisfactory settlement.
Now the talk on picket lines and in local union offices is much more conciliatory. While awaiting official word from the ATU on terms of the tentative settlement, strikers were optimistic. But many conceded that they probably ''will have to give up something'' under a new labor agreement.
The strike began after the ATU's Greyhound bargaining council turned down company proposals that would have cut wages 9.5 percent and reduced or eliminated a number of benefits and work rules in the expiring contract. At one point, the union estimated Greyhound employees could lose up to 25 percent of wages and benefits under the initial proposals.
Greyhound later revised its proposals, with pay cuts averaging 7.8 percent. This was the offer strikers rejected almost unanimously on Nov. 29.
However, leaving the bargaining door open a little, union negotiators suggested a smaller wage cut might be accepted if Greyhound gave up some demands for benefit and rules changes.
Since then, a number of developments have contributed to bargaining progress.
For one, Greyhound announced plans to hire replacements for strikers - ''as many as are needed to restore full service.''
Strikers faced a loss of jobs and pension, insurance, and other service credits. Greyhound ran ads in 200 newspapers across the country comparing average salaries and benefits of its employees with other workers ($32,238 a year for drivers compared with $20,463 for high school teachers or $20,299 for police officers).
Already operating about 10 percent of its normal service in 200 locations, Greyhound announced Nov. 30 that it expected to operate 22 percent to 24 percent of its runs by the end of the year by using newly hired employees.
Second, strikers were increasingly concerned about their job future with Greyhound because of its warnings, but they did not respond to pressures to return to jobs. Instead, anger built up among strikers and violence against Greyhound buses became more frequent.
With positions hardening on both sides, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service called Greyhound and union negotiators to Washington. The move away from corporate headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz., the site of previous bargaining, paid off. Federal mediators found common grounds for an agreement between parties that were seeking a way out of a strike that was threatening to become more serious for both.