Frank Lorenzo, who heads the beleaguered Texas Air Corp. and is locked in a life-or-death struggle with its labor unions, has hired a squadron of mostly Democratic lawyers and lobbyists to help fight his battles in court and on Capitol Hill.

The team is a virtual catalogue of Washington power hitters, and its Democrats range from party operatives to a former Cabinet member to a coterie of former aides to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

"The interesting thing about the list is that it includes virtually every prominent Democratic lobbyist in the city," said Carl Wagner, a former Kennedy aide who is working with Democratic activist Paul Tully on behalf of the unions. "J.D. Williams? Robert Strauss -- Mr. Democrat? I don't know how these people reconcile what they're doing with Frank Lorenzo with their avowed affiliations or values."

Because of his reputation for union-busting at Continental Airlines and his legendary battles with the machinists' and pilots' unions at Eastern Airlines, Lorenzo symbolizes anti-unionism. Having sued his unions under the racketeering statutes May 5, he seems an awkward client for Democratic activists.

Democrats hired by Lorenzo do not view their work as conflicting with traditional Democratic values, which include support of organized labor. Deregulation was a great populist cause that opened air travel to the average citizen, they say, and Lorenzo's battles are seen as a struggle to preserve that.

The more trouble Lorenzo's airlines face, the larger his cast of lobbyists and lawyers grows. And Lorenzo has troubles like no other airline executive.

Eastern's pilots have testified before the Senate and House that they were forced to fly unsafe airplanes, and the International Association of Machinists has taken Texas Air to federal court to block the transfer of the Eastern Air Shuttle to another Texas Air subsidiary, charging that Texas Air was attempting to destroy Eastern by siphoning its assets.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., secretary of health, education and welfare in the Carter administration, was recently hired to represent Eastern -- against the unions -- in the Eastern shuttle case.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Robert Strauss' law firm is handling Eastern's labor legal work.

J.D. Williams, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser, has lobbied House members this spring to defeat a resolution calling for an investigation of Eastern's operations.

"They certainly have made an all-out blitz," an executive for a competing airline said of Texas Air's efforts to stop the House resolution. "They are not focusing on any other issue. If you ask them what's going on on the independent FAA {Federal Aviation Administration} bill, they say they're not dealing with it. It is a massive effort on their part."

Lorenzo began building a stable of lawyers, lobbyists and publicists in the early 1980s, when he started New York Air and hired William Van Ness, a former aide to the late senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), to be the airline's attorney.

Lorenzo's primary operative is Philip Bakes Jr., a former Watergate special prosecutor and Kennedy aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee who helped Kennedy draft the airline deregulation bill that passed Congress in 1978. Bakes, 42, became president of Continental after Lorenzo bought it in 1981 and put it into bankruptcy, breaking the pilots' union. Bakes moved to Eastern after Lorenzo bought it in February 1986 and seven months later became Eastern's chief executive officer.

As Eastern's troubles burgeoned, Bakes sought help from two former Kennedy aides -- New York attorney David Boies and Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg. In 1979 Boise was chief counsel of the Judiciary Committee; Feinberg was special counsel.

Feinberg said Bakes hired him for "a few discreet assignments," which he said have included handling internal corporate matters for Eastern and writing a defense of airline deregulation -- in anticipation of any possible move in Congress to re-regulate the industry.

"I'm not working for Frank Lorenzo, I'm working for Phil Bakes," Feinberg said. "And I've been asked to defend a public policy which is a major benefit to the American people, and I'm glad to do that."

Lorenzo's list of heavy hitters extends beyond Bakes and his former colleagues. Former representative James C. Corman (D-Calif.) has lobbied on behalf of Continental since the early 1980s. Clark H. Onstad, FAA chief counsel in the Carter administration, became a Texas Air vice president in 1982, a year before Williams signed on as a lobbyist. Meetings between Lorenzo and the staff of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, have been arranged by Harry McPherson, an aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Berl Bernhard, finance chairman of Hollings' 1986 reelection campaign.

Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., son of the late representative and Rep. Corinne C. (Lindy) Boggs (D-La.), is on Eastern's board of directors. Mark Johnson, former aide to Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), was hired two weeks ago to handle publicity for Texas Air.

The New York advertising firm Sawyer/Miller Group, which does Kennedy's campaign advertising, has been handling Eastern's and Continental's advertising for a year. The firm's president, Jack Leslie, another Kennedy staff alumnus, created the recent full-page newspaper ads designed to blunt the impact of the Transportation Department's investigation of Eastern.

Texas Air officials say their roll includes well-known Republican lawyers and lobbyists as well. Attorney Donald C. Alexander, an Internal Revenue Service commissioner under President Gerald R. Ford, works for Eastern, as does Stan Anderson, a Republican Party activist. Frederick McClure, former legislative assistant to former senator John G. Tower (R-Tex.), is a Texas Air vice president.

Onstad, the former FAA counsel, said his work at Texas Air does not conflict with traditional Democratic values. He views it as a consumer issue rather than a labor issue.

"Twenty-five percent of Americans were flying in 1978, and today, 72 percent have flown," Onstad said. "We have companies {Eastern and Continental} that came out of deregulation and they need to change."

Califano said, "I don't talk about work for clients." Others hired by Lorenzo did not return calls.

Some other airlines, faced with unwanted airline consumer bills in Congress and the prospect of re-regulation, have begun slowly to hire more lobbyists. But none has come close to Texas Air.

"On the other hand," said the executive from the competing airline, "none of the other airlines have ever had to lobby for their own existence before. It's different for Texas Air."