Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis and Robert Poli, leader of air traffic controllers' union, traded charges yesterday over the Reagan administration's handling of the controller strike as airlines braced for potential snafus caused by a sympathy boycott by Portuguese controllers.
Poli, president of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, said yesterday on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM) that Lewis misinformed President Reagan and went back on promises to help the controllers.
"If they ever went after organized crime in this country the way they went after controllers," Poli said, "it would be a lot safer place to live."
But Lewis, in a telephone interview later, said that the government bent over backward to reach an agreement and avoid the strike, which is almost two weeks old. The union could divide the government's $40 million package any way it wanted, the secretary added.
"I don't see how he could possibly expect more than 11.4 percent" wage increase, Lewis said. "He could spend the money any way he wanted to."
Reagan was well-informed of the issues and felt that just as he should uphold his oath of office, so should the air controllers, Lewis said, adding that there is "absolutely no possibility whatsoever" that many of the striking controllers will return to work.
Reagan's "attitude is these people weren't fired, they quit," Lewis said.
Lewis said 85 percent of regularly scheduled flights took off as scheduled over the weekend, a higher proportion than in the previous week because fewer flights are scheduled on Saturday and Sunday. At least 75 percent of domestic flights, and all foreign flights, will proceed as scheduled this week, Lewis said.
The 48-hour boycott of U.S. flights by Portuguese air traffic controllers, which began at 8 p.m. yesterday, will cause delays because planes going to southern Europe will have to take a longer route over the Atlantic, Lewis said. Government officials have said that the Portuguese boycott would have a "slight, maybe nonexistent" impact on transatlantic flights.
To cope with the Portuguese boycott, two additional flight tracks, avoiding Portuguese air space, have been set up, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said. Together, the two tracks are expected to handle 14 planes an hour, preventing the need to cancel flights, said the spokesman, Dennis Feldman.