CHICAGO -- Richie Phillips, the Philadelphia lawyer who represents the Major League Umpires Association, yesterday filed an unfair labor practices charge against the American and National leagues.
Phillips said league officials are planning to lock out the umpires, beginning Opening Day, until a contract agreement is reached, and replace them from a pool of 200 amateurs.
"We're very, very far apart," Phillips said. "There is hope, assuming they want to get serious and work out a deal. But if they're intent on a lockout, there is no hope."
The possibility of a lockout was acknowledged by Robert Kheel, who represents management. Kheel confirmed the umpires have not received their checks for April "because the leagues are waiting to see what happens."
Kheel also disclosed "plans have been made for all contingencies," an indication amateur umps have received their
assignments for at least the first week of the regular season, which begins Monday.
xTC "The umpires have the right to strike and that would be their decision," said Kheel. "But if they chose to work, the leagues have the choice not to let them work."
Phillips, in what seemed an optimistic comment, said, "We are six days away and six days in collective bargaining is like two lifetimes."
Negotiations were to resume today with three unresolved issues -- salary, pension benefits and a change in the selection procedure for postseason play.
Although Phillips said, "I haven't given numbers to anybody," sources familiar with the negotiations insist the umpires have rejected an approximate 15 percent across-the-board salary increase.
League officials apparently have agreed to raise the top salary, for 20-year men, to $120,000 from $105,000 and the minimum to $48,000 from $40,000.
The indications are the umpires want the minimum almost doubled to $75,000 and the maximum increased to $175,000.
"The owners have given away the store to the players and now they're going to be tough on us," said one veteran umpire who requested anonymity. "They pay a rookie $100,000 just for making the team. But they go cheap with us."