TIED UP AGAIN
Last week it was suggested here that long-awaited progress in the National Football League's interminable labor dispute might come about if a degree of mutual respect were to be shown by players and owners. For awhile such respect seemed suddenly evident: in what sounded like a big step forward the owners assured the players that a reasonable contract would be submitted for their approval, and the players in turn agreed to go back to work—which is to say, play the opening games of the season—while they waited for the new offer to be made.
That's about as far as the respect went. The owners did submit a contract, declaring that the provisions in it were "total and complete," whatever that means. Sargent Karch, the owners' man, said, "We've given them our best shot. I don't see how the players can turn it down."
That Karch was being cynical, or at least unrealistic, is shown by the players' overwhelmingly negative reaction to the "best shot." Even the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers, who earlier had been antistrike, and in the Bills' case antiunion, voted immediately and almost unanimously (85-1) against it.
But the players' militant anticontract vote was a bit misleading, too. Top people in the Players Association had made it clear that a vote against the contract was not a vote to strike. Some players may have wanted to strike, but most wanted to avoid such drastic action while expressing their displeasure with the new offer—and go on playing.
It's hard to blame them. A 15-day walkout in an ordinary industry might cost a worker a couple of weeks' wages; a similar strike in pro football could wipe out as many as three games, which means three-fourteenths, or more than 20%, of a player's annual salary. A long strike could take a lot of bread out of a short career. And the owners—despite Commissioner Pete Rozelle's protestations that "there will always be a need for a union" in pro football—don't need or even want a contract as long as games take place and tickets are sold. So the status quo continues—games being played, players being paid—with the sparring going on and on.
AND OUT IN RIGHT FIELD
Baseball isn't in the best of shape, either, on the labor front. (Can you remember when people talked about batting averages and last-minute field goals instead of contracts and negotiations?) Marvin Miller, who runs the Baseball Players' Association, says he is not at all optimistic about a new basic agreement being reached before the old one expires on Dec. 31. "We're getting nowhere," says Miller. "It is becoming perfectly clear that [the owners] want to create a crisis. Don't ask me why." He hints that the baseball owners have been watching the NFL owners and feel they can create splits in the baseball union similar to those that have appeared in football's.
"There's all the difference in the world between the two," Miller says. "If the baseball owners don't see it, that's too bad."
AND IN THE HOOP