AFL-CIO officials gave President Reagan a three-point proposal yesterday for making peace with organized labor, and the president responded by extending an olive branch that was long on promised consultation but short on policy commitments.
Reagan rejected the federation's request to return the fired air traffic controllers to their airport tower jobs, according to a presidential spokesman, but held open the possibility that they could be hired in other federal positions.
He also rejected the AFL-CIO's demand that he withdraw his nomination of John R. Van de Water, a former labor-management consultant whom many labor leaders regard as a union-buster, to head the National Labor Relations Board.
But he promised to consult fully with union leaders on economic and labor policy decisions, and designated Vice President Bush and Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan as his liaisons to organized labor.
The president acknowledged during his 70-minute meeting with the AFL-CIO executive council that relations between his administration and most of organized labor have grown increasingly hostile. What he asked from labor most of all was a chance to start building relations anew.
"I never anticipated I would be estranged from labor with all of the years I put in as a union member," said the former president of the Screen Actors Guild, according to a White House spokesman who attended the meeting.
"This would be a good point for us to consider starting over. We need consultation to get this country moving again. We want to be able to get together on a regular basis," the president said.
The spokesman said that AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland responded: "We welcome that."
After the meeting, Kirkland thanked Reagan for "assurances that labor will have timely opportunities to express its views on issues of mutual concern, as the administration's position on these issues is being formulated."
But Kirkland said the meeting left unresolved labor's "deep, principled differences with the administration's budget and tax policies and our concern that they will serve only to aggravate the human problems of working people in a time of severe recession."
White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes characterized the meeting in the Cabinet Room as "frank" and "businesslike" and marked by a "spirit of give-and-take."
He said Reagan emphasized to the AFL-CIO officials that he and they share aims: to bolster America's national security and increase jobs. And he quoted the president as having said: "I won't be satisfied until there is a job for every man or woman who wants to work."
But federation officials said later that this was not enough.
"The president is very publicly committed to a lot of things that we're against," said Kenneth Blaylock, president of the American Federation of Government Employes. Because of this, he said, he is "not optimistic" that relations between organized labor and the administration will improve significantly.
United Auto Workers President Douglas A. Fraser, commenting on the federation's economic policy differences with Reagan, said: "He told us what he thinks. We told him what we think. In a few months, we'll know who is right."
Reagan's effort at peace-making with the AFL-CIO came in the midst of a federation drive to increase its participation and influence in Democratic politics. The federation has increased its representation on the party's national committee and its executive council, and it has mounted a grass-roots campaign to elect pro-labor candidates, mostly Democrats, in 1982.