Commissioner Earl Foreman, Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale, Blast coach Kenny Cooper and the Cleveland Crunch have been named in papers filed by the Major Indoor Soccer League Players Association charging unfair labor practices.
The players union charges that those unfair practices included threats of blackballing players who continued to resist the salary cap reduction, and the blackballing of at least two players from the league.
The complaint states that:
* Foreman, Hale, Cooper "and other officers, agents and representatives" of the league interrogated players and created the impression of surveillance regarding which players continued to oppose a reduction in the collectively bargained salary cap.
* Cooper and others threatened to blackball Major Soccer League players who continued to oppose a reduction in the salary cap.
* Since near the end of July 1991, the MSL has refused to bargain with the MISLPA, the certified bargaining representative of the players, bypassing the union and imposing unilateral changes in salary and working conditions on its employees.
* The Cleveland Crunch refused to re-sign defender Bernie James and midfielder Mike Sweeney because of their strong opposition to a reduced salary cap.
All of these issues stem from the circumstances surrounding last summer's negotiation over lowering the MSL salary cap to $525,000. It was a particularly difficult negotiation, because the MISLPA had agreed a year earlier to lower the cap to $625,000. In return, the owners had signed a three-year collective-bargaining agreement promising no more cuts.
Foreman said last night that the matter is in the hands of league attorney Bob Carlson.
"I really have no comment," Foreman said. "We don't think there is any merit [to the charges]."
The complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 21. The NLRB will undertake an investigation to determine if there is enough evidence to bring formal charges. If there is, a hearing date would be set.
Cooper, who returned last night from a successful trip to England, where the Blast beat Sheffield Wednesday, 8-3, burst into laughter when told of the complaints.
"What is this, April Fools' Day?" Cooper asked. "All we're constantly trying to do is to create jobs for players in this league. I just got back from England, where Ed [Hale] and I are working on expansion. What can I say? I really did need a good laugh."
Hale did not return messages left on his answering machine. But Blast player representative Rusty Troy termed his union's charges "ridiculous."
"No. 1, I don't know what good is going to come from this," Troy said. "But I think it just might upset Ed Hale enough that he might pull out. . . . This basically forces me to step down as our player rep."
Sweeney, who is about to open a soccer supply store in Broadview Heights, a Cleveland suburb, said he is "really surprised the union went through with this," because it happens every summer.
"The lowering of the salary cap demands and the threats to close down if we don't accept, it's part and parcel of our summer vacation," he said. "I think this must be the first time they've gotten enough hard evidence to go forward."
MISLPA executive director John Kerr said the MSL salary cap of $525,000 never has been ratified by the MISLPA.
"Since the end of July, they've been going directly to the players rather than dealing with us as the players' representative," Kerr said. "When they [MSL owners] received our rejection to accept a lowering of the salary cap [last summer], they went directly to the players with threats that they were going to shut down the league."
Sweeney and James say they are convinced they had been blackballed from the MSL after the July salary cap negotiations, and both have been told Cooper was responsible.
"Someone has told me Kenny had me blackballed," said Sweeney. "I'm not going to identify him, because he is still in the league and I want him to be able to have his discussions with the Labor Relations Board without being pressured.
James, who is in Kirkland, Wash., making plans to finish his last two years at the University of Washington, said he still wants to play, but after nine years in the MSL doesn't see much opportunity for that to happen.
"Certainly the league has done some things against the labor laws in this country," James said.
James, who was coming off the best season of his career, also said Cooper had him blackballed because he was the only player rep to vote "no" to the salary cap.