Players put off strike vote

June 17, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

The Major League Baseball Players Association did not set a (( strike date yesterday, but union representatives left little doubt that there will be a labor confrontation if ownership presses forward with its plan to implement a revenue-based salary cap.

The executive board of the players union met at the O'Hare Airport Hilton yesterday to discuss the ownership proposal, which calls for a salary cap based on a 50-50 revenue split. Ownership claims that the cap is necessary to save the game from financial calamity, but the players have -- so far -- refused to consider anything that would inhibit their earning potential.

There was speculation that the meeting might produce a strike authorization and negotiating deadline, but the 55 players who attended the three-hour meeting merely examined the ownership proposal.

MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr stopped short of predicting a walkout, but he didn't paint a promising picture.

"It [a strike] is not a good thing and it's not something anybody should want, certainly the players don't want to," Fehr said. "A strike is the last resort."

But the history of baseball's labor relationship points in that direction, since the players and owners have failed to come to an agreement without a work stoppage the past seven times they (( have come together to work on a new Basic Agreement.

"The owners never take the players seriously," Fehr said. "This atmosphere reminds me of 1981. . . . In 1981, the owners couldn't wait for the players to go on strike."

The 1981 season was interrupted for nearly two months by a players strike. Since then, there has been a brief midseason strike in 1985 and a spring training lockout in 1990. Each time, the owners have been frustrated in their attempt to limit salary growth. This time, they have made it clear they are committed to imposing a cap, even if it means sitting out the final two months of the season.

It may come to that. The players probably will set an Aug. 1 strike deadline when they meet in Pittsburgh July 11. That would leave three weeks to negotiate and enough time to salvage the season if an agreement is reached soon after the work stoppage.

The 28-page plan submitted to the union would give the players a 50-50 split of revenue in exchange for a salary cap that would force clubs to have payrolls of 84 to 110 percent of the average. Salary arbitration would be eliminated, but the threshold for free agency would be lowered from six years' major-league service to four.

"Our offer means player salaries will go up, not down, as long as baseball revenues keep growing," ownership negotiator Richard Ravitch said.

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