Philadelphia Daily News - March 6, 1980
Yes! Yes! 40 Times Yes!
Phillies Support Strike
By Bill Conlin
CLEARWATER – The Phillies, first in peace, first in war and fourth in the Eastern Division last season, yesterday became the first major league club to support a threatened April 1 Players Association strike.
They voted 40-0 to support any action the Players Association's executive board takes if a new basic agreement is not negotiated by then. It's the first time the Phillies have agreed on something in years and that's a tribute to the persuasive powers of Marvin Miller, who met with the athletes for 2½ hours in the first of 26 informational visits to each big league team.
At one time, the Players Association and owners had time on their side. Now, if you read Tuesday's April 1 ultimatum right, a strike is just around the corner. Unless the owners beat them to it today at a meeting in Tampa and close the training camps.
Pete Rose, one of the chief beneficiaries of a free-agent system the owners would like to amend, had mixed feelings about the long meeting with Miller, National League player rep Bob Boone and his American League counterpart, Mark Belanger.
"IT WAS A GOOD meeting and a bad meeting." Rose said. "It was a good one in the respect we found out what the negotiating is all about. It was bad in that it's more serious than people think. People don't like the word 'strike.' We can only put our faith in what Marvin Miller has done for us the last 14 years. We have to stick together like 72 and 76. The reason I have the contract that I have is that we all stuck together. I would say right now that a strike is a very good possibility if negotiations don't pick up."
In the classic semantic garbage dump of American labor conflicts, the union says that management has offered nothing of substance and, indeed, is trying to take away hard-fought gains. Management, on the other hand, claims its generous offer has been buried under a pile of excessive and unreasonable demands.
Miller said he wanted to make sure the Phillies players understood where the two sides stand in negotiations, he says have yet to budge from ground zero.
"Before you vote on something this important you have to have as much of the facts as we have to give," Miller said. "Even at the risk of overdo ing it that is necessary. There have been 16 negotiating sessions already and a lot was said. The players had a lot of comments, a lot of questions, a lot of solid determination that the players want a fair and equitable settlement. And if there's no agreement by April 1, the Phillies have authorized the executive board to vote a strike."
HAS THE PLAYERS Association left itself an out amid all this tough talk? It seems to have left a bat in the door. What would it take for the players to continue negotiating past a deadline which seems certain to pass without a settlement being reached?
"We could play past the deadline if there is progress," Miller said. "What constitutes progress? You know it when you see it. Everybody has a lot to lose in a strike. I've been in labor relations 40 years and I've never seen a situation where a settlement was not preferred to a strike."
The owners want to put a check on free-agent signings by exposing 15 players on a club's 25-man roster to a one-for-one draft by the team losing the player. The rule would take effect if a player is drafted by seven or more teams. Case: Mike Schmidt plays out his option and is drafted by 13 teams. He signs with the Yankees. Under the owners' proposal, the Yankees could freeze 10 players and the Phillies could select one of the remaining 15.
The numbers are obvious. A team can't protect all its regulars and all its starting pitchers, too.
THE PLAYERS WOULD like to preserve the current system while cutting the length of big league service required before an option can be played out from six to four years.
The owners want to establish a scale of maximum and minimum salaries applicable to all players during their first seven years of service. That proposal has about as much chance of making it as a drunken Soviet soldier in a dark Kabul alley.
The owners say they've offered the players a handsome increase in fringe benefits, including the share of TV money traditionally put into the pension fund. The players say they want a pension fund increase in proportion to the actual dollar value of the current network contracts. Miller says the owners' offer has already been eroded by inflation.
"If there's a strike of any duration we’d have to have spring training all over again while playing league games," said Larry Bowa. the Phils player rep. "We have to go along with the executive board or else everything we've gained over the years goes out the window, we might as well forget the union... If the owners are counting on us not being unified they have a long wait."
After the caucus. Miller met for two hours with Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, at the ballclub's Holiday Inn headquarters.
"We had an excellent meeting," Grebey said afterwards. "Our discussions, with the Players Association indicated movement in 28 areas."
Miller smiled sardonically at that. "There aren't 28 areas," he said. "Let me describe the traditional way they negotiate. They make an outrageous proposal, one you couldn't accept if you stood on your head. Then they withdraw it and in exchange they want you to give something up.
"They try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge – even if they don't own it – if the price is right."
One nagging question remains. Will the umpires cross the picket lines?