Rail labor and management have agreed informally to delay the start of industrywide bargaining while awaiting the outcome of negotiations between CSX Transportation and unions representing its workers.

Talks between the CSX Corp. unit and the 15 unions representing its 38,500 union employees are at a sensitive point. A consensus is developing on both the management and union sides that a breakthrough work-rules agreement may be at hand.Such an agreement could set the pattern for bargaining for much of the rest of the railroad industry. The industrywide labor agreement became subject to reopening last Friday but no action was taken.

John L. Sweeney, CSX senior vice president, corporate services, told The Journal of Commerce that both sides at the CSX bargaining table have set a goal of reaching a go-no go decision in the next couple of months.

Jim Kennedy, executive secretary of the Railway Labor Executives Association, the umbrella group of leaders of the railway unions, said: It makes sense for all of us that it (the negotiating process) not drag out.

Charles I. Hopkins, chairman of the National Railway Labor Conference, which handles bargaining for most railroads, said: I have suggested to labor leaders that, before we exchange formal proposals, we have exploratory discussions. I expect them to begin soon.

Mr. Hopkins declined to tie the delay in starting negotiations directly to the CSX talks.

Mr. Kennedy said there is a consensus that delay at this time would be constructive. RLEA unions, for the most part, have agreed to hold off, he said. I am confident that one of the main reasons is the sensitive state of talks at CSX.

Both Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Kennedy emphasized that they were not speaking for all their member groups.

I don't know when or if, in the meanwhile, one or more of the (labor) organizations will serve formal proposals, Mr. Hopkins said.

Mr. Sweeney confirmed reports that the company has made a comprehensive proposal to its unions. The package deals with basic wages and work rules and, if accepted, provides productivity gains amounting to an estimated $450 million annually.

CSX has opened its books to the unions in an effort to gain their trust. The company also made it clear to the unions that under current language it could eliminate 10,000 union jobs over the next eight years.

Rather than wait 10 years and get nothing for it, why not give the productivity now and get gain-sharing at the same time? one rail executive said.

Gain-sharing is at the heart of the CSX proposal. The carrier has offered a large buy-out to gain the voluntary retirement or resignation of thousands of workers.

For remaining workers, CSX proposes a guaranteed fund of half the $450 million it expects to save. Each worker would receive an annual bonus of $4,500 to $9,500, depending on pay rate, for the next 10 years.