An arbitrator looks at the air controllers

Much has been said, in anger and in sorrow, in heat and on reflection, in sympathy and in displeasure, on many sides of the issue created by President Reagan's dismissal of the air traffic controllers.

One side not heard from is the middle: the qualified neutrals, so certified by the American Arbitration Association, state mediation boards, etc., whose work is (as one colleague put it) ''being fair for a living.'' They have not had anything to say, much less been called on officially to assist.

Labor arbitrators are looked to for the skills and expertise calculated to aid ''dispute resolution.'' We are accepted in labor-management conflicts as persons like the Red Cross in more sanguinary combat. Sometimes this helps bring about communication between adversaries who each fear that an initiative toward peace is a sign of weakness. An occasional benefit is a solution not even thought of (or at least not admitted to have been thought of) by either side.

There are available for the controllers' deadlock with the Federal Aviation Administration some ideas that could be picked up and worked with. One is from the standard labor relations inventory, and one from the Republican-presidential.

Every arbitrator and most advocates who have participated in labor arbitration are familiar with the phrase ''economic capital punishment'' as applied to discharges for misconduct under clauses in collective bargaining agreements providing for such discipline. The implication is that the sentence is so drastic that it sometimes should be commuted.

In many discharge cases, especially those involving a ''first offense'' or extenuating circumstances, the arbitrator is expected (by both sides) to mitigate the rigor of the discharge by reducing it to a suspension for a period of time for which the employee has been out.

Nobody ever thinks of this as ''amnesty''; nobody ever thinks of this as condonation of the offense. It is accepted as appropriate, particularly where there has not been ''progressive discipline''; that is to say, warnings appropriately spaced, followed by brief suspensions or fines, and then a final warning prior to the termination of all rights to the job.

Without compromising the rigorous position he has chosen to take, the President can be guided by these standards and at the same time preserve his principles.

In addition to this, we can suggest application of the Republican-presidential code of morality. That was established when President Ford exercised clemency with respect to his predecessor on the basis of one preeminent proposition: it was thought that the ex-President had suffered enough.

Without passing upon the merits of the labor dispute that erupted with the controllers' strike and without taking any position which embarrasses anybody as to that strike or the conduct of the President thereafter, I suggest as a practicing neutral that economic capital punishment is excessive, that the controllers have suffered too much, and they should be quietly invited to return to their jobs.

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