Compromise often fruit of Angelos' labors

October 11, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

His fellow team owners may be reluctant to listen to Peter Angelos' ideas for settling baseball's walkout, but people who have negotiated with the seasoned labor lawyer say his style of ** seeking common ground may be just what it will take to get the game back on the field.

Angelos got his start working for a United Steelworkers Union local at Bethlehem Steel Corp. and made his fortune -- and national reputation -- winning $1 billion in liability payments for thousands of clients injured by asbestos.

But for most of his career, he toiled in the more mundane aspects of labor law, working on behalf of butchers, shipbuilders and construction workers, navigating them to accommodation with employers. He advised them on contract negotiations and settled grievances in dozens of steel mills, grocery stores and construction sites.

Along the way, he developed a reputation as a conciliator, an image quite at odds with the poisonous rhetoric he became known for in his fight against asbestos manufacturers and his autocratic style in operating the Orioles.

In fact, people who have been on both sides of the bargaining table from Angelos describe him as assertive but willing to compromise for settlement.

"My recollection of him is as a man that attempts to meet you halfway and avoid unnecessary litigation," said Earle K. Shawe, a Baltimore-based labor lawyer with a national reputation for defending employers.

Shawe, senior partner of Shawe & Rosenthal, opposed Angelos many times over the past 25 years, generally in defense of construction companies facing off against the Baltimore Building and Construction Trades Council, an organization of construction unions represented by Angelos.

"I found him to be a pretty knowledgeable negotiator and a guy who vigorously protects the interests of his clients, as did I. But we were able to resolve in many instances some very complicated issues," Shawe said.

William P. Kaczorowski, president of the construction trades council, said: "The thing about Peter is he understands both sides of the issue better than anyone."

And he's not afraid to rein in union demands or to propose unorthodox solutions, Kaczorowski said.

During the planning for the Marley Station Mall, a big construction project near Glen Burnie, for example, the Michigan-based contractor intended to employ nonunion workers, Kaczorowski said.

Angelos approached the company with a novel suggestion: seek bids from unionized firms first, and, if the proposals don't fit the budget, put it out to bids a second time, seeking nonunion companies.

"I'd never seen anyone do that," Kaczorowski said. The ploy worked: The company obtained sufficiently low bids calling for unionized employees and used them on the job.

"Sometimes he'll say, 'You're going for the moon, and it's not going to happen.' He's very levelheaded, but when he's right, he'll stick to his guns," Kaczorowski said.

Sticking to his guns may be working against Angelos in the baseball situation. He has angered many team owners with his stridence and penchant for publicly taking positions in opposition to baseball orthodoxy.

He held an unauthorized meeting with players union chief Donald Fehr at a Little Italy restaurant, and is floating an idea -- which so far has been coolly received by owners -- to abandon the salary-cap demand in favor of diverting a percentage of each player's pay into a fund for small-market teams.

Acting commissioner Bud Selig acknowledged Angelos' experience in labor negotiations but wondered if it was relevant to baseball.

"I guess all experience is relevant," Selig said. "I truly believe that. Everybody says their business is unique. . . but this [baseball] really is unique. This is not your classic labor negotiation. There is a lot of history that goes into it. It is quite aberrational. There are just a lot of differences."

But Angelos' supporters say it may be the only route Angelos -- probably the most experienced negotiator among the 28 team owners -- can take to be involved.

"They won't listen to him privately, so they put him in a position of having to talk publicly," said Jerry Menapace, secretary treasurer of the Washington-based United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Menapace bargained alongside Angelos for many years on behalf of a meat cutters local in Baltimore.

"He would come into a situation where he knew nothing, like a packing house or a retail store, and talk to people, and, in five minutes, he knew everything about it," Menapace said. "He's one of the smartest guys I know."

Over the years, Angelos warned the union away from rigid positions and urged compromise, he said.

"His philosophy was, 'After you make a deal, you've got to live with the other side. It's in your interest to make a deal where the employer doesn't feel like you [hurt] him and spends the next several years trying to get even,' " he said.

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