Summit concludes, but owners promise to bring back new plan

November 13, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

RYE BROOK, N.Y. -- Baseball's labor summit concluded yesterday without significant progress, but there appears to be growing optimism that the rejuvenated negotiations will lead to a compromise.

The three-day collective bargaining session at the Doral Arrowwood Conference Center produced a wide-ranging discussion of the economic issues that have polarized the bargaining units since the players went on strike Aug. 12. Little time was spent in actual negotiation, but the owners have agreed to bring a new proposal when bargaining resumes Thursday in Washington.

Mediator William J. Usery proclaimed the three-day meeting a success and expressed hope the next round of negotiations will be the last.

"From a mediator's point of view, . . . the past two days have been beneficial to all concerned," Usery said. "We're going to go there [Washington] and hopefully stay until we can conclude an agreement."

Ownership committee chairman John Harrington again acknowledged that pressure is building on the owners to either settle or declare impasse and confirmed that the owners would formulate a new proposal during the next few days.

"I think it's fair to say that this weekend was mutually productive," Harrington said. "We've listened to what the players have said, and I think we're aware of their concerns to a greater degree."

There is growing speculation that the owners will come back with a proposal calling for a tax plan that would inhibit the growth of payrolls beyond a certain level. Harrington would not talk about specifics, but he did say that the offer would not necessarily be binding with regard to the owners' right to impose new work rules unilaterally.

Labor law dictates that management can impose its last, best offer if the negotiations reach a legal impasse, but Harrington said yesterday that management lawyers have told him that the owners could still impose a salary cap after proposing a less drastic change in the compensation system.

The letter of the law allows the owners to impose the last offer that was presented and bargained in good faith, but what that means could become the subject of future litigation. Perhaps both sides now realize that the legal morass that would be created by implementation isn't worth the trouble, but that will become more clear this week.

"My understanding is that when the time is right to make an agreement, it can come down pretty quickly," said Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, "but even if we get an agreement on the major issue, there still are about 200 other things that have to be worked out."

The players remain suspicious that the owners will simply repackage the salary cap in another form.

"Sure, you can take the salary cap off the table," Glavine said, "but if you bring something back like a luxury tax and it has the same effect, what have you got?"

Usery appeared to be under the impression that the owners have softened the hard-line stance that pushed the players onto the picket line three months ago.

"To get an agreement, you have to listen to each other," Usery said. "I have done my utmost to encourage them to [do that]."

Union sources seemed hopeful that the decision by the owners to formulate a new proposal is a sign that they listened to some of the concerns expressed by the union.

But Major League Baseball Players Association director Don Fehr wasn't ready to express any official optimism.

"They are working on something," Fehr said. "They believe they need a few days to put that together and they want to have a sustained bargaining session once that concludes. We, obviously, don't know what is in that proposal, so we'll wait and go from there."

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