Labor shifts toward working with Reagan administration

Organized labor, bitterly disappointed by the magnitude of Ronald Reagan's reelection victory Nov. 6, now needs to make a series of decisions concerning its relations with the federal government during the next four years.

The key decision that will affect all the others, is whether labor should continue an almost complete break with the Reagan administration in its second term - or work toward bridging the communications gap that has existed between the White House and AFL-CIO headquarters across Lafayette Park.

There is growing sentiment among labor leaders to end the sharp and highly critical labor attack on President Reagan - who was labeled by AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland as ''one of the worst enemies of working men and women'' - and negotiate a truce.

Under such a truce, opposition to many Reagan policies would continue, but unions, led by the AFL-CIO, would still try to work with the administration on programs important to labor.

Right now, only days after the election setback, some labor officials say that eventually organized labor will have to come to grips with the situation.

In doing so, some major differences between unions and the administration would have to be confronted:

* Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan, now on leave to fight charges of larceny and falsifying records, continues to be persona non grata with unions - not because of his problems with the law (which he claims are ''not worth the paper they are written on''), but because he is not considered a representative of organized workers. There is a consensus among top labor officials that a new labor secretary in 1985 and a voice in the selection process would help communications with the White House.

* Organized labor is particularly unhappy with the National Labor Relations Board. Labor officials feel that while the NLRB is supposed to be a neutral agency for handling labor-management relations, it has instead become a politicized agency that is pro-management.

Labor officials have been angrily critical of the appointment of Donald L. Dotson as chairman and Rosemary Collyer as general counsel of the NLRB, the latter a recess appointment that bypassed Congress. Three of four members of the board (one seat is vacant) are Reagan appointees. Unions also want the ''fairness'' issue reinstated in NLRB case-handling.

* Labor officials say they want their views seriously considered in policymaking decisions on the economy, social programs, foreign trade, and other programs.

Now that the election is over, there are indications that the Reagan administration may wish to end some of the existing strain with organized labor. It may take the initiative in December or early January.

AFL-CIO policies toward the administration will be reconsidered at the federation's executive council meeting early next year. Labor leaders also have reportedly been told their imput will be sought if a successor to Donovan is chosen.

At a recent meeting, members of the AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Work expressed general satisfaction with AFL-CIO strategy of giving early backing to Walter Mondale and devoting more support to him than any candidate in the past.

Although there was some debate about the wisdom of the historically early endorsement that came late in 1983, a consensus seemed to feel that with a strong Democrat in the race, an early endorsement policy should be continued in 1988.

Although Mr. Mondale lost, organized labor can be happy that it helped elect 63 percent of all labor-backed candidates for congressional seats and governorships, AFL-CIO political director John Perkins said during the campaign review.

Union members gave Mondale a 57 percent vote for the presidency (53 percent if all in union households are included) according to a New York Times/CBS poll. The union had a goal of gaining 65 percent for Mondale.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.