Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan said today that he believes half the 35-member AFL-CIO executive council supports the administration's budget plan, but the AFL-CIO's president later said, "I was not at the same meeting that he described."
The labor secretary's comment came the day after the council unanimously approved a statement criticizing President Reagan's plan, which would, in part, toughen standards for the award of unemployment compensation benefits and sharply reduce federal funding for some of organized labor's favorite programs.
Donovan told reporters that his belief is based on a meeting here this morning with the executive council. He said, "Many stood up and said: 'Give the president his chance at bat. Let's not pick the program apart.'"
"I find many more areas of agreement between the administration and these labor leaders than I have yet read in the press," Donovan said. He said he believes "the painful portion" of Reagan's program "has gotten the headlines, and the message of hope of economic recovery has not gotten the attention that it deserves" in the news media.
Initially, Donovan declined to say exactly how many of the council members told him that they supported the Reagan plan. "I don't want to play the game of percentages," he said. But when pressed to give some quantification, he said: "Fifty percent of the people in that room . . . would be accurate enough, I believe." The meeting was attended by the full council, according to several council members.
Donovan's remarks did not mesh with comments of council members who were questioned following their meeting, which ended about 45 minutes after Donovan's news conference.
Kenneth Blaylock, president of the American Federation of Government Employes, called Donovan's statement "misleading." Sol Chaikin, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, said Donovan "must be clairvoyant." Glenn Watts, president of the Communication Workers of America, shook his head, laughed and walked away from reporters.
Asked at a news conference if anyone at the meeting stood up and voiced support -- in general or in particular -- for the Reagan program, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said: "Not while I was there, and I didn't leave the room."
Donovan could not be reached for comment.
The confusion after Donovan's remarks seemed to undercut the intent of his nearly two-day visit, which was to try to win some accommodation between the White House and national labor leaders on the matter of economic recovery. Some of the labor leaders said that Donovan's appearance was unimpressive, but added that they found the labor secretary personable.
Kirkland said that Donovan conceded that "he has more opinions than information" at this point -- "a trait he shares with all of us." Still, Kirkland said he does not believe the council members "were wholly satisfied with the responses" they received.