Gary Chaison, industrial relations professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said the PATCO incident was a cut-and-dried case of federal employees who challenged the president and said they would strike even though it was illegal.

No evidence

"You will hear people say that after Ronald Reagan replaced the air traffic controllers, American employers started to replace strikers," Chaison said.

"I have never seen any evidence that decisions by management at private companies replace strikers were a result of Reagan's actions."

Reagan became president at a time when the labor movement had weakened, making him a very easy scapegoat for its problems, Chaison said.

Before Reagan, labor always felt it had an ear in the White House.

But during his administration, labor leaders began to feel marginalized, Chaison said.

"I do think that Reagan showed the labor movement how important it is to have a friend in the White House and how vulnerable the labor movement can be if they have someone who's not a friend," Chaison said, "because there were no labor law reforms passed, the minimum wage laws were not changed, foreign competition grew tremendously and ate away union jobs."

'Stacked' labor board

Reagan also made it much more difficult for workers who wanted to have a union to get one, said Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon's labor education and research center.

"Reagan stacked the labor board with people who are anti-union," Lafer said. The right to strike became more theoretical and less real, he noted.

While Reagan did appoint members to the National Labor Relations Board who reflected his political views, previous administrations also had appointed board members who shared their ideologies, noted Alan Draper, a professor of government at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

Reagan simply took it to a new level, appointing members who were very anti-union, he said.

"The Reagan years accentuated and exaggerated a trend of decline that was already present before Reagan came on the scene," Draper said.