Divided umpires considering strike

Gulf said growing between AL, NL umps

August 24, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

With the threat of a strike serving as an undercurrent, the division among umpires along league lines grew wider yesterday. At least eight of the 13 new umpires the National League has hired have joined the umpires' union, a person close to the union said, but none of the American League's 12 new umpires has applied for membership.

Twenty-two umpires, 13 from the NL and nine from the AL, face the loss of their jobs Sept. 2 after the leagues' acceptance of their resignations. The union has tried to salvage their jobs in talks with the league presidents and through unfair labor practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

But the 42 umpires who have continued to support the union's position in the dispute have discussed the possibility of staging a walkout as another way of trying to resolve the jobs issue. One of the 24 umpires whom the union has labeled dissidents said he has heard of two dates for a possible strike -- next Monday and Sept. 2.

Richie Phillips, the union's chief negotiator, declined to comment on the likelihood of a walkout.

"My entire focus is on achieving a peaceful resolution of this dispute," he said. "I'd rather not comment on the possibility of an unfair labor practice strike if we're not successful in achieving a peaceful resolution."

The umpires' labor agreement with the leagues bars them from striking. However, employees covered by such a provision can nevertheless strike if the employer has committed unfair labor practices.

The labor board is not expected to have a decision on the umpires' charges by any time next week. The absence of a ruling, therefore, would make an unfair labor practice strike next week highly risky for the umpires. If the board subsequently were to find no validity in the union's charges, the umpires would be in violation of the contract and could lose their jobs.

The leagues would have the right to permanently replace the 20 other union supporters who have retained their jobs after initially submitting letters of resignation. Thirty-three of 36 NL umpires have continued to side with the union position. Only 9 of 30 AL umpires who are union members have joined them. The leaders of the dissident umpires are both AL umpires, John Hirschbeck and Joe Brinkman.

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