Mr. Moffett, who had dealt with the union since 1970, was not surprised by its defiance of Reagan.
“They thought that the government and the country could not exist without them acting,” Mr. Moffett said when Professor McCartin, who teaches history at Georgetown University, interviewed him for his book in 2001. “There are some people that are just not replaceable, per se, and they felt they were these guys.”
Kenneth Elwood Moffett was born on Sept. 11, 1931, in Lykens, Pa., north of Harrisburg. His father, Elwood, was a coal miner who rose to the presidency of District 50, a union of workers in fields related to coal mining that was part of the United Mine Workers and later the United Steelworkers of America. His mother, Hannah (Ely) Moffett, was a homemaker.
Unionism was ingrained in the Moffett family. Ken’s great-great-grandfather was part of the Molly Maguires, a secret society of Irish American coal miners that battled mine owners in the 19th century. His grandfather, who was active in the U.M.W., died of black lung disease. And his father took him to labor meetings and to factories, where Ken handed out pamphlets to unorganized workers.
After graduating from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1958, Mr. Moffett worked as an organizer for District 50 in Baltimore and Richmond, Va. In 1961, he left for the federal mediation service as an intern. His job involved research; he later moved into mediating disputes in Cleveland for five years, then worked in Washington as a troubleshooter at the agency.
“I get along with people pretty well,” he told The Washington Post in late 1981, after his busy summer. “You can’t have someone doing this who’s acerbic.” He added, “I know all the catchwords and the key jargon which makes people say, ‘Hmm, he is being sympathetic.’”
He became the service’s director of mediation services in 1972, deputy director in 1977 and acting director four years later.
Even with his growing administrative responsibilities, he remained active in mediating disputes, like the pressmen’s strike at The Washington Post in 1975 and the newspaper strike in New York City in 1978 that shuttered The New York Times and The Daily News for nearly three months, and The New York Post for 56 days.