Unions in New York City and New Jersey were disappointed at the outcome of elections that saw Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York reelected by a landslide and labor's favored candidate, Rep. James J. Florio, a Democrat, in a virtual tie with Republican Thomas H. Kean in the New Jersey governor's race.
Unions had no real choice in the New York mayor's race. Many opposed Mr. Koch as candidate of both Democratic and Republican Parties, but leaders conceded that he appeared unbeatable. The most they could hope for, they said, was a close contest that would undercut the mayor's power. They did not consider this possibility to be enough to warrant a fight that would leave them in an adversary position with a reelected Koch.
In his overwhelming victory, the mayor's total drew heavily from rank-and-file trade unionists.
Meanwhile, in the New Jersey gubernatorial contest, Representative Florio had strong backing from organized labor. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland considered the race important enough to assign 10 international union presidents to assist the New Jersey AFL-CIO in its efforts to beat Kean.
Union money flowed in. The AFL-CIO and its unions established a telephone bank with 500 phones and 1,000 volunteers to seek support for Florio. An ''informational campaign'' also included a mailing of 650,000 endorsement tabloids to union members and friends throughout the state; a distribution of 250,000 leaflets at job sites, plant gates, and building entrances; and nearly 100,000 letters to members in election districts considered crucial.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the Untied Automobile Workers, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, and the Communications Workers of America, all of which represent state employees, worked hard to get out a pro-Florio vote - and apparently succeeded in blue-collar areas.
Labor's disappointment was in the apparent defeat of Florio. His opponent, Mr. Kean, was ahead unoffically on Wednesday by a few thousand votes out of 2.5 million cast. The final results of the race will be decided by absentee ballots, a recount of votes in a number of key districts, and possible court tests.
If he eventually wins, labor in the state - and AFL-CIO nationally - will claim major credit in a contest that labor cautiously sees as a preview of 1982 congressional elections.