MSL union is blasted by players Grievance brings criticism that director is out of touch

February 04, 1992|By Sandra McKee

The Major Soccer League players' union might have upset some of its players more than it did MSL officials by filing a complaint of unfair labor practices last week.

The players say John Kerr, director of the Major Indoor Soccer League Players Association, is out of touch with players, acts unilaterally and is more concerned with getting money for former athletes than with preserving the jobs of the 112 active players.

"I'm going to talk to all our reps and see what we can do," said Dallas Sidekicks goalkeeper Joe Papaleo. "I'm going to do everything I can to stop this. If they're counting on me as a witness, it's over.

"What it comes down to is whether the union office is going to control us or are we going to control it. . . . Other unions don't operate like this, and ours shouldn't, either."

The union charges stem from the circumstances surrounding last summer's negotiation over lowering the MSL salary cap to $525,000 just one year after players agreed to cut it to $625,000. In return, the owners had signed a three-year collective-bargaining agreement promising no more cuts.

The complaint, filed with the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 21, charges:

* MSL management -- including commissioner Earl Foreman, Blast owner Ed Hale and coach Kenny Cooper -- interrogated players and created the impression of surveillance to determine which players opposed a reduction in the collectively bargained salary cap.

* Cooper and others threatened to blackball MSL players who refused to endorse a reduction in the salary cap.

* Since the end of July 1991, the MSL has refused to bargain with the MISLPA, the certified bargaining representative of the players.

* The Cleveland Crunch refused to re-sign defender Bernie James and midfielder Mike Sweeney because of their strong opposition to a reduced salary cap.

The union's Kerr defends the filing.

"During negotiations last summer, a number of players asked us what action we could take concerning unfair labor practices," Kerr said. "I told them we would probably take up the issue and file a complaint with the NLRB later on. The union reps were aware of that, and they should have been relaying that to their teammates."

He estimated the number of players involved in the complaint at "six or seven."

"It is my duty to fairly represent all our players," Kerr said. "I have players who think something was not done correctly, so I put together a presentation to our attorneys, and they tell me if we have a case. In these matters, they evidently thought we did, so we filed the papers. Now, it is up to the NLRB to decide if it thinks there is substantial evidence to press the charges."

Kerr said communication with players in the league is difficult and said he had no control of the timing, which coincided with the MSL winter meetings and All-Star Game.

"The bottom line is I can't control what grievances are filed," Kerr said. "I have to pursue every one I get. Hypothetically, I'd prefer we hadn't had the need to do this, but I also would have preferred the league had honored its previous commitments."

Papaleo says he is angry because he thinks he "was not told the truth" about the reason the union contacted him.

"They said they might want to file a complaint that would in the future force our commissioner to negotiate with our union director," said Papaleo. "If I had had any idea they were going to file the paper I have in my hand, accusing Mr. Hale and Kenny Cooper of these things or that they were going to try to get money for Michael and Bernie, I would never have said anything.

"And I want it made clear that Mr. Hale never threatened anyone. And Kenny Cooper never said any player had to change his vote."

The charges come at an inopportune time for the league, which has been working on expanding both in this country and abroad. The MSL winter meetings and All-Star Game will be here next week, and expansion is the main subject on every owner's mind.

"Personally, I'm upset," said Blast forward Rod Castro. "This is a rock-bottom season. We have to build. Bickering about the past doesn't help.

"What we as a union need to realize is that we need more cooperation with owners and less antagonism. And the owners need to remember that the players have made a lot of concessions."

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