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Baseball could have another labor dispute on its hands, with its umpires. Richie Phillips, General Counsel of the umpires' union, accused the American and National Leagues of failing to bargain in good faith in a complaint filed with the NLRB. Phillips said the leagues have notified the umpires, who are paid year-round, that they will be locked out and will stop receiving pay on January 1. The umpires' 4-year CBA expires December 31, and Phillips said there has been no "substantive response" to a proposal that would increase salaries 60% as well as increase the postseason bonus pool. NL President Leonard Coleman: "We reviewed their proposals with disbelief, regarding them as extraordinary in their largess, given the realities of the day." There have been nine bargaining sessions, but none are currently scheduled (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 12/23). NL lawyer Bob Kheel said no decision on a lockout has been made, but he noted that it was an option (USA TODAY, 12/23).
The owners and players "failed to reach a bargaining settlement before the midnight deadline established by the owners last Friday." Conferring by telephone, the owners' Executive Council responded by declaring an impasse and unilaterally implementing their salary cap system. "It is certain to ignite a bitter legal battle and jeopardize the 1995 season." MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr: "The owners will come to regret this -- sooner than they realize" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 12/23). The final joint negotiating session "became so contentious that Special Mediator William Usery decided it would be pointless to keep it alive up to the deadline" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 12/23). Dodger Owner Peter O'Malley does not completely support the new system because of the absence of a provision insuring good management among clubs receiving the benefits of revenue sharing: "I still don't like the idea of sharing money with clubs like San Diego and Milwaukee, where there has been no evidence of good management" (L.A. TIMES, 12/23). LAST-DITCH: Yesterday afternoon, the players made another proposal that contained a secondary tax. But the owners said it was insufficient, since only three teams would have had to pay a 10% marginal tax. Phillies Exec VP Dave Montgomery: "This proposal, as far as we're concerned, brought us no closer to the objectives we were talking about." Royals Player Rep David Cone: "Anything short of a total collapse by the players would not have gotten a deal done" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 12/23). Selig: "I can't tell you how disappointed we all are in their alleged counterproposal. It was so unresponsive that it is like we were back in June or July" (L.A. TIMES, 12/23). Fehr, on why their latest proposal did not come until today: "It's not a proposal that the players really wanted to make, because it goes against what they wanted. They don't think they need taxes." Fehr noted that the proposal was ready Wednesday night, but he said Usery asked them to wait until Thursday ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/22). NOW WHAT? The union plans to file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB as early as today or Monday. Usery will speak with Labor Secretary Robert Reich to determine whether Usery should remain involved in the dispute (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 12/23). BOSNIA, NORTH KOREA, HAITI ... NOW BASEBALL? Jimmy Carter, the world's "foremost peacemaker," has offered his services as a mediator. Fehr spoke to Carter yesterday: "I'm very appreciative of his interest, but at this point, I don't know what it will mean." Usery said he would welcome Carter's help, but added: "The only thing I didn't think we needed was another mediator" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/23). Likewise, acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig told Carter "no thanks" (USA TODAY, 12/23).
NHL owners and players did not meet yesterday in either full or lower-level negotiations, and there were no indications that the two sides would get together again until after Christmas. On his way to a few days off in Hawaii, Maple Leafs President & GM Cliff Fletcher said next week is the last chance. Fletcher: "No deal next week, no season. It can't be done outside next week." But other sources insist that talks could carry into the first week of January and a deal still be cut to start a 50-game season 10 days later (Lance Hornby, TORONTO STAR, 12/23). Once again, reports from coast-to-coast, in the U.S. and Canada, range from bleak pessimism to outright optimism. A SAMPLING: BOSTON HERALD: For the first time since the labor dispute began, Bruins GM Harry Sinden predicted there will be no season (Stephen Harris, BOSTON HERALD, 12/23). CANADIAN PRESS: Alan Adams reports that one "influential team president" objects to the league's position that there was no official offer of a no-tax proposal -- insisting instead that any such discussion was carried out on a "conceptual level." The team official said: "If this is not a proposal, then why did they call me last week to ask my opinion. Of course it is a proposal" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 12/23). CHICAGO TRIBUNE: At the Blackhawks annual Christmas party, Chris Chelios "chatted amiably" with team owner Bill Wirtz. Chelios had earlier threatened Gary Bettman. Wirtz: "We have our differences, but what's that got to do with Christmas?" (Robert Markus, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 12/23). EDMONTON JOURNAL: Cam Cole writes, "Even if there's no no- tax proposal on paper, you can be pretty sure one was floated verbally to the players in last week's low-level negotiations; and the league's denial simply means it can't stand to be scooped on its own story. Wouldn't that be something? The governors have been carrying this big stick around, and it may turn out yet that they have no intention of using it" (SOUTHAM NEWS/OTTAWA CITIZEN, 12/23). L.A. TIMES: Helene Elliott reports, "Two league sources said that as long as talks continue, even sporadically, Commissioner Gary Bettman will not exercise his power to cancel the season" (L.A. TIMES, 12/23). NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks writes that there will be a season starting either the weekend of January 6 or 13. With the owners apparently ready to trade their tax for further concessions, "the negotiations now will focus on restrictions within Group II salary arbitration. The league will insist that players do not become eligible for arbitration their first season out of the three-year entry-level cap; they will insist that only Group II contracts be admissible as comparables; they will insist on the elimination of the option year in the contract, which had given players arbitration rights both going into and coming out of that season; and they will insist on non-binding, walkaway arbitration." Brooks adds to expect a trade next week in which the owners give up right-to-match for Group II free agents and the players agree to "walkaway" arbitration -- in which a team can release a player instead of accepting an arbitration award (N.Y. POST, 12/23). SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: Sharks Owner George Gund believes both sides are close to settling. Gund: "They are very, very close to a deal .... I expect they will be on the ice in about three weeks" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/23). TORONTO STAR: Damien Cox writes, "The last thing Bettman wants is to swing a deal that leaves a dozen owners feeling shortchanged, so for a proposal to go out without a tax attached, it would need to have enough significant player concessions that the hardliners won't squawk too loudly. Similarly, the more moderate types don't want to see the season cancelled over a payroll tax system that many of them don't believe would work in the interests of ownership anyway" (TORONTO STAR, 12/23). VANCOUVER PROVINCE: Gordon McIntyre responds to holiday season comparisons of Gary Bettman to The Grinch and Bob Goodenow to Ebenezer Scrooge: "The Grinch and Scrooge, after all, had changes of heart before it was too late" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/23). WASHINGTON TIMES: Dave Fay takes a position similar to yesterday's N.Y. POST report -- that the owners' insistence on a tax has been part of plan to exact concessions on other fronts. "When the hockey players sit down and reflect on it, they will realize how badly they have had their pockets picked" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/23).