Judge postpones hearing, gets umpires, management talking

22 could lose their jobs after today's games

September 01, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association continues to search for a way out of the ill-fated labor strategy that has left 22 members facing termination after today's games, but the clock appears to be running out on the union's legal options.

Union chief Richie Phillips has asked a federal judge in Philadelphia to issue an injunction to prevent baseball management from accepting the resignations of the 22 umpires, but a hearing scheduled for yesterday was postponed until today, as U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner prodded the two sides to work between themselves to resolve the dispute.

The hearing was scheduled to begin at 1: 30 p.m., but Joyner chose instead to try his hand at mediation. There were a series of meetings that lasted throughout the afternoon and evening, but the possibility of a settlement that would allow the militant umpires to stay on the job beyond their self-imposed Sept. 2 resignation date seemed remote.

"Today was devoted to the judge asking both sides to consider some issues," management lawyer Rob Manfred told the Associated Press last night. "We'll consider them overnight and come back in the morning."

Baseball officials say the umpires resigned voluntarily and should not be entitled to injunctive relief. The umpires say the mass resignation was intended only to jump start negotiations toward a new labor contract, but have had trouble selling that in court because their existing labor agreement includes a no-strike pledge.

Phillips has attempted to sue baseball once this summer, but withdrew the lawsuit last month. The union also has sought relief through the National Labor Relations Board, which is expected to issue a ruling on an unfair labor practice complaint today.

Umpire Ed Hickox remains hopeful that something can be worked out before he is forced to walk away from his dream job.

"That's the only thing you have to hold onto," said Hickox, who spent the afternoon in Philadelphia before rushing to Camden Yards in time to work last night's game between the Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "I have hope there will be a resolution. Both sides have to give and take to hammer this thing out. I've got faith in the system. Too many people are getting hurt who have no right to get hurt."

Baseball's latest labor dispute became national news on July 14, when Phillips announced the mass resignations in response to growing concern that ownership might attempt to lock the umpires out to wrest major bargaining concessions from the union when the existing contract expires on Dec. 31.

The plan backfired when several umpires refused to join in the rebellion and 27 others eventually rescinded their resignations. Phillips has spent the past six weeks trying to hold the union together while Major League Baseball prepares to replace the 22 umpires whose resignations were accepted.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/01/99

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