Umpires to meet here in effort to form new labor organization

Attorney Shapiro to make presentation

22 ousted umpires invited to attend

October 20, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Dissident members of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association have scheduled a meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 2 to make their case for decertification of the existing union and the formation of a new -- less confrontational -- labor organization.

The Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee has invited all 93 members of the existing union, including the 22 whose resignations were accepted by Major League Baseball after an abortive job action in July, to take part in the meeting, which will be held at the Baltimore Days Inn.

"We just need to get together," said Joe Brinkman, who along with veteran umpires Dave Phillips and John Hirschbeck, is leading the effort to decertify the MLPUA and form a new union. "We have been moving forward with the new organization, so we've invited everyone down to hash everything out."

Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro, who has been acting as an unofficial adviser to the group throughout the recent labor crisis, is expected to make a presentation and field questions about the proposed change in union representation.

Current umpires union chief Richie Phillips, whose ill-fated resignation plan left a third of his membership out of work, is not expected to attend.

He has been under attack from within the MLPUA since before the resignation scheme split the union, but survived an attempt by the dissident faction to remove him earlier this year. The failure of the resignation gambit re-energized support for new leadership, but the organizing committee must convince a majority of the umpires to vote for decertification of the existing union and certification of a new collective bargaining unit.

Shapiro has been mentioned as a candidate to lead the new union, but he generally prefers to remain behind the scenes in an advisory capacity. The organizing committee has retained Baltimore labor attorney Joel Smith as legal counsel -- prompting speculation that he will become the union chief -- but Brinkman said yesterday that such speculation is very premature.

"There really hasn't been any discussion of that," Brinkman said. "We may eventually interview a few people, but we would like to run it ourselves and have somebody as legal counsel to advise us."

The organizing committee is wary of handing too much power over to any one person, particularly someone who is not an umpire. The whole point in deposing Phillips, Hirschbeck told The Sun recently, is to restore some semblance of democracy to the union.

The umpires' union has made great strides under Phillips' leadership, but he clearly overrated his leverage when he convinced all but a few members of the union to submit their resignations in an attempt to force management into early contract negotiations.

The owners, weary of Phillips' penchant for putting up a fight on virtually any issue, finally called his bluff and began hiring new umpires. The union fragmented when Major League Baseball refused to allow 22 of the umpires to rescind those resignations.

Several umpires sought the counsel of Shapiro, who has built a national reputation as a proponent of a "win-win" non-confrontational approach to negotiations. He has co-authored a book on the subject, titled "The Power of Nice."

Shapiro is the polar opposite of Phillips. He doesn't negotiate through the media and he uses his superior people skills to finesse both sides onto common ground. Several times over the past two decades, he has worked behind the scenes to reduce labor friction between the players and owners, so he was a logical choice to play a similar role for the umpires.

During the Nov. 2 meeting, he will outline a new union philosophy that encourages a constructive relationship with management and the abandonment of the confrontational style of the old union leadership. Shapiro also is expected to work toward an accommodation with ownership that will allow the 22 displaced umpires to return to work next season.

The organizing committee already has taken the first step toward decertifying the MLPUA, a source confirming that the group already has gotten approval from more than 30 percent of the union membership to petition the National Labor Relations Board for a decertification vote.

Brinkman said he and Smith will travel to New York today for a preliminary hearing on the issue today.

"It's been tough," Brinkman said, "but we're making strides and I think that baseball is making strides."

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