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Pro sports call timeout to settle some old scores

October 02, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

On the players' side, unions have fought to establish minimum working conditions but let members and teams establish each player's pay. Team owners have pushed for a more traditional labor-management arrangement where salaries are controlled through collective bargaining.

"For many years, the players had it tough and were not treated fairly. I believe now the direction has shifted to such a degree that the players have a great deal of power and a correction is needed," Mr. Sachs said. It was not always so.

Former Baltimore Colt Ordell Braase was president of the NFL Players Association in 1965 when the union, still unrecognized by the owners as a bargaining agent, first got the league to sit down and talk.

The initial meeting was held in a Florida hotel, and participants were arrayed around a U-shaped table with each team owner sitting next to the union rep from his team. There were no lawyers or professional negotiators, just Commissioner Pete Rozelle chairing the meeting.

"How much are you going to pound on the table with the guy that signs your paycheck sitting next to you?" Mr. Braase said.

The meeting started with Bears owner George Halas standing up and saying, "The game is bigger than all of us," and urging cooperation.

It ended about five hours later without official recognition of the union, but with an agreement to let a player sit on the pension board and to meet again.

Mr. Braase said it was an important first step that eventually led to recognition.

"This industry has changed remarkably," said the Browns' Mr. Modell, an early architect of NFL labor policy. "It's incomprehensible to me. The games have gotten so big and the salaries and franchise values have gotten so big. There are philosophical differences that were not in existence years ago.

"The bottom line is that people are sick and tired of labor disputes. The fans come home from the factories, and their own labor disputes, and they want to watch sports. We have a tremendous hold on the public, but we better be careful."

WHERE THEY STAND

Baseball: In the 52nd day of a strike with no end in sight. Owners are discussing the use of replacement players. The union is pushing Congress to strip the sport of its antitrust exemption.

NHL: Contract expired September 1993, but last season was played under terms of old agreement. Union offered Thursday to play the regular season and playoffs without striking if the owners agreed not to lock them out. But owners deferred a decision, postponed the opening of the season -- set for yesterday -- until Oct. 15 and asked the players to resume bargaining. The players have agreed.

NBA: Contract expired June 23, and next month's scheduled start of the season could be in jeopardy.

NFL: Signed an agreement last year that lasts until 2000, but the union recently filed a grievance over the way it is being

implemented.

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