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Owners Will Join Talks Next Week : Baseball: Director of players' union calls it a positive step but says he has no reason to believe it indicates a change in management's salary-cap proposal.

August 19, 1994|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the request of federal mediators, five major league baseball owners will join Richard Ravitch, their chief negotiator, when idled collective bargaining talks resume next week in New York.

Owners agreed to the request in a conference call Thursday.

Don Fehr, executive director of the players' union, called it a positive and helpful development but said he has no reason to believe that it indicates a substantive change in the owners' salary-cap proposal.

On Day 7 of the players' strike, Ravitch did not provide reason to believe otherwise. He said there has been no modification in the proposal.

"Absolutely not--not in the least," he said.

The salary-cap issue has caused a negotiating stalemate. Ravitch and Fehr have not talked since last Friday, but mediators have been in daily contact with both sides and met separately with them Thursday. Afterward, John Calhoun Wells, national director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said the owners had agreed to expand their negotiating team in a way that will be representative of the big, middle and small markets.

Acting commissioner Bud Selig insisted Thursday night he had not selected the five owners who will join Ravitch when negotiations resume, probably on Wednesday. The sides will meet separately with the mediators again on Monday and are expected to hold a joint meeting on procedural issues Tuesday.

"We told the mediators that we were available any time--today, tonight, this weekend--but apparently the clubs don't want to meet until midweek," Fehr said. "It's a shame that another week has to be wasted, but we've been operating on the owners' clock from the start and I detect no sense of urgency on their part."

Ravitch bristled and said the date had been chosen by the mediators.

"Our sense of urgency has been at the highest level since the strike began," Ravitch said. "I mean, we didn't go on strike, the players did."

Considering problems in previous negotiations, Ravitch and Selig had channeled these talks strictly through Ravitch. But Ravitch said he had never objected to having owners at the table and welcomed the decision, which can "compress and accelerate" the negotiating process because he has to report to the owners anyway.

Several owners, including George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees, Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles and Jerry McMorris of the Colorado Rockies, had criticized Ravitch and the direction of the negotiations last week, urging Selig to lift the ban on owners at the table.

Selig admitted that he had heard from several other owners by phone, but the impetus, he said, came from the mediators, who told Ravitch that their experience with multi-employer situations convinced them that negotiations can benefit from having some of those employers at the table.

"It's incumbent on us to do everything we can to cooperate and speed the process up," Selig said. "If this contributes, fine, but I wouldn't read anything more into it."

Fehr did, however, saying that by insisting the big, middle and small markets are all represented, the mediators recognized that the dispute didn't involve the players but was strictly between the owners.

He also said that since there have been players at the table from Day 1, the absence of ownership was significant.

"It was a clear signal that they did not want to talk directly to the players, did not want to answer their questions and did not want to reach an agreement," Fehr said. "Hopefully, this means that's changed. There's the possibility now of dialogue with people who are in the business and know how it operates and have the authority to make negotiating decisions."

Asked about speculation that the owners are only doing this to show they negotiated in good faith should they ultimately declare an impasse and implement their salary-cap proposal, Fehr said, "I'm not that suspicious yet. If that's why they're doing it, we'll know soon enough, but I hope not."

It is uncertain whether the mediators will facilitate a settlement, but they have changed the chemistry. Angelos, the outspoken Orioles' owner, said it was a step forward but that he probably will not be one of the five owners chosen because he has been receiving "the silent treatment" from many of his fellow owners for voicing too many opinions as basically a rookie owner.

In Washington, meanwhile, the strike continued to generate Congressional threats regarding baseball's antitrust exemption.

Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) said his House Judiciary Committee would renew hearings on the exemption in the fall. Brooks blamed the exemption for "a recurring pattern of strikes, lockouts and bad-faith collective bargaining that makes labor disputes in the auto, steel or coal industries look like the epitome of harmonious dialogue."

Fehr, who spent Monday and Tuesday in Washington trying to regenerate interest in legislation that would remove the exemption, said he didn't know what impact the Capital outcry had on the owners' decision to come to the table.

"But they should be aware now that people have begun to look at them more closely, and that's good," he added.

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