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Neither Reagan nor Kirkland wins hearts of construction workers

The powerful construction unions are proving difficult for would-be wooers. At its biennial convention here, Oct. 21, the 4.1 million-member Building and Construction Trades Department of AFL-CIO coolly received Reagan administration pledges of support on legislation important to the unions.

Lane Kirkland, president of AFL-CIO, hardly fared any better in his personal appeal for stronger political and legislative support from the construction unions, a generally conservative department that frequently backs Republican candidates and programs.

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After both sides made their pitches at the department's convention, neither side could claim a clear victory. The building trades are particularly important to the White House and AFL-CIO in organized labor's developing struggle with the administration over its economic and social policies.

In a letter to the convention, President Reagan tried to reassure building trades unions. ''I will continue to support my campaign pledge not to seek repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act,'' he said, referring to the federal statute requiring payment equal to area prevailing wages on all federally funded work.

Later, Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan pledged that the administration will also oppose moves in Congress to repeal the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Administration spokesmen told the delegates that regulations for administering the two acts have been eased so that the administration can ''hold the line'' against moves in Congress to repeal the wage law and severely weaken the safety measure.

Secretary Donovan said that the administration, aided by construction union officials, ''have been able to reach a solution that achieves the purposes of the Davis-Bacon Act - the protection of construction wages - while protecting the legitimate interests of taxpayers.''

Business organizations are seeking the repeal of Davis-Bacon and the safety and health law, criticizing both as excessively costly for employers. The federally funded work makes up an estimated 60 percent of construction jobs in the nation.

For his part, Mr. Kirkland continued his recent sharp attacks on the Reagan administration in his appearance before the convention. He charged it was attempting to chip away at vital health and safety provisions for workers under OSHA and to undercut Davis-Bacon safeguards of wages and high construction standards on federally funded work.

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He criticized the administration's high interest policies as harmful to American workers and particularly to the building trades, now suffering from a construction slowdown that has dropped housing starts to the lowest level in decades.

The one burst of applause he received came as a response to a charge that prevailing wage and safety and health regulations were forced by the actions of employers.

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