President Reagan, apparently trying to counter union charges that his is an anit-labor administration, is planning a travel program that will take him to Chicago for a carpenters' convention and to New York on Labor Day, but there are no signs that his hard line against the striking air traffic controllers has softened.
Yesterday the White House discounted discussions between an administration official and an intermediary for the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, most of whose members are being terminated by the government because they walked off the job illegally Aug. 3.
The director of the Office of Personnel Management, Reagan appointee Donald J. Devine, confirmed that he had discussed general terms and cost of a settlement with a labor leader close to PATCO President Robert E. Poli. The discussions took place after the controllers went on strike and the administration declared it would not negotiate further with PATCO.
The Department of Transportation repeated yesterday that it will not resume talks with the union, and DOT spokesman Linda Gosden said Devine had no authority to explore avenues toward a reconciliation.
Devine denied that his talks were an attempt to do so. They came, he said, during routine contacts with Kenneth T. Blaylock, president of the American Federation of Government Employes, which represents some 700,000 government workers. Because Devine's agency coordinates government employment, the two men speak on the phone frequently.
Before the strike, Devine said, as PATCO grew into an important issue for government unions, he and Blaylock began informal discussions about the controllers in an attempt to improve understandings between the government and labor.
Those discussions continued after the strike began, although Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis instructed Devine not to engage in negotiations. Devine passed on to Lewis any matters of interest from the discussions, but he said Blaylock never said that he was working with Poli.
One day on the phone, Devine said, Blaylock laid out some contract details, which appeared to be a minor shift from PATCO's final negotiating stance when talks broke off, and asked what he thought. Devine's staff took the figures and calculated a range of costs.
About two weeks ago, Devine mentioned the contract details to Secretary Lewis, who, he said, apparantly began to think that these discussions might be going too far. Lewis informed the White House, and the White House called Devine. "They asked me not to be dealing in specifics," Devine said.
On Aug. 19, at Devine's suggestion, he and Lewis met with Blaylock in the secretary's office to assure the union leader that the administration hoped for good relations with unions. There was no discussion of a settlement with PATCO, a Transportation Department spokesman said.
A spokesman for Blaylock yesterday declined to discuss details of his talks with Devine. But the spokesman did say that Blaylock was in contact with Poli and Lewis and, as an intermediary, was trying to reconcile the 3 1/2-week-old confrontation.
Poli has long maintained that he was keeping channels open with unnamed persons in the government and that talks would start again. Asked yesterday if there were any other links like those through Devine, PATCO spokesman Marcia Feldman declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Reagan seems to be attempting to repair the damage the controllers' strike has done to relations with the labor establishment. Next week he is to address the convention of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in Chicago in his first appearance before a national union convention as president.
Four days later, on Labor Day, he will be in New York City to turn over a check for highway construction. The marches scheduled in the city that day have been billed as a protest against Reagan's dismissal of the controllers.
Some analysts think that despite organized labor's apprehensions about Reagan, its leaders are not eager to confront his administration over a small union's strike, and one the courts have ruled illegal.
Gestures of support so far have been largely symbolic. Many unions have issued statements of condemnation. Some union members have joined the strikers' picket lines. Oil and chemical workers have announced a boycott of air travel.
But there have been few significant sympathy actions and cash donations. The most potent gestures of support have come from controllers in Canada who staged 48-hour boycotts of flights to and from the United States earlier this month and tied up transatlantic traffic.