WASHINGTON — In an article in yesterday's Sun, President Clinton's intervention in the baseball strike was compared to John F. Kennedy's intervention in a "crippling steel strike." Actually, Kennedy interceded in response to steep increases in steel prices announced after the industry raised wages because of a strike threat.
The Sun regrets the errors.
WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, after vainly beseeching major-league baseball players and owners to "give us back our pastime," announced last night that he would ask Congress to pass a law requiring the six-month baseball strike to be settled by binding arbitration.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
"They are clearly not capable of settling this strike without an umpire," a somber Mr. Clinton told reporters at the White House at the end of a nearly five-hour emergency negotiating session. The president has no legal power to end the strike and would need Republican support in Congress to approve a measure to force arbitration.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, reacting to the president's proposal, said last night that they were reluctant to step into the problem.
"We maintain our view that Congress is ill-suited to resolving private labor disputes," Mr. Dole and Mr. Gingrich said in a joint statement.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Gingrich had said: "I'd be very, very cautious. This is a straight-out labor-management struggle. It is not a matter of national survival."
Mr. Clinton acknowledged as much, saying that the baseball strike didn't compare to the crippling steel strike settled by presidential fiat when John F. Kennedy occupied the White House. Instead, Mr. Clinton appealed mainly to the sentiments of baseball-loving Americans, who saw their World Series taken from them last year for the first time in 90 years.
"If something goes on for that long without interruption -- seeing our nation through wars and dramatic social changes -- it becomes more than a game, more than simply a way to pass time. It becomes part of who we are," Mr. Clinton said.
The strike began Aug. 12. Players opposing the owners' salary-cap plan as an attempt to drive down salaries walked out, as they have several times in the past 15 years.
But this one never was settled, and now it threatens the 1995 season. Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Clinton, expressing the same frustration as the average baseball fan, directed a federal mediator, William J. Usery, to jump-start the negotiations. Without being specific, the president implied that if the two sides couldn't agree, he would find a way to intercede.
At the White House, the hope was that the owners and the players wanted to begin the season but could not figure out a face-saving way to end the impasse. But the president and his advisers underestimated the antipathy the players and owners feel for each other.
Mr. Usery said late last night that the mutual mistrust of the two sides was the worst he'd seen in a lifetime of negotiating labor disputes.
His frustration was clear when he said that he had put out various proposals simply because the two parties wouldn't negotiate with each other.
And the two sides remain split: The players union favors arbitration to end the strike, but the owners would have accepted a plan offered by Mr. Usery.
"Essentially, there were two ideas that were discussed," said the union's director, Donald Fehr. "Voluntary arbitration -- and we indicated that we were prepared to arbitrate everything, and we indicated that we were willing to go back to spring training under the terms that were put back into effect yesterday by the owners.
"If we went back, there would be a mandatory fact-finding committee to put together the facts, then we would resume bargaining at the end of the year."
Acting commissioner Bud Selig said: "The clubs realize that the president has appointed Bill Usery and put his faith and trust in him. We are willing to do the same. We feel the proposal he outlined for us was a step in the right direction. We felt it was generous to the players, but it would put the game back on the field for the 1995 season."
"The union said that it will not accept anything that would split the difference between the two sides," Mr. Selig said. "That statement reflects the union's unwillingness to negotiate. . . . We should have a settlement -- the one prepared by Bill Usery."
Mr. Usery's proposal included:
* The phasing out of salary arbitration. This was considered by the players to be a blow, because arbitration has been the engine driving ever-escalating salaries, which now average $1.2 million per season.
* A tax on teams whose salaries exceed $40 million, first at 25 percent, then at 50 percent. The owners initially had said they wanted a 75 percent tax at anything more than $35 million and a 100 percent charge for any team payroll that exceeded $42 million.