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Mediator Usery to Enter Baseball Negotiations

October 14, 1994|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baseball's owners and players have agreed to a request by Secretary of Labor Robert Reich that they return to the bargaining table next week with William J. Usery, a former labor secretary under Gerald Ford and former director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, acting as special mediator. Reich is expected to introduce Usery at a White House news conference this afternoon.

Bud Selig, baseball's acting commissioner, refused to comment Thursday, and Donald Fehr, executive director of the striking players' union, could not be reached.

Eugene Orza, the union's associate general counsel, said, "It has been clear for a while that the Administration, as well it should, has a keen and ongoing interest in seeing that this disagreement is resolved, but that's all I can say right now."

An Administration source said that Reich has been in contact with both sides for several weeks and believed this was an appropriate time for the highly regarded Usery to enter the stalemate. There have been only three negotiating sessions since the strike began Aug. 12 and none since Sept. 9.

Usery, 70, who operates a Washington consulting firm that specializes in mediating labor disputes, had no comment when reached at his home in Arlington, Va. He has been one of the country's foremost mediators for a generation, working to resolve major labor disputes that range from a threatened rail shutdown in 1969 to the bitter coal strike of last year.

He is particularly known for helping to work out arrangements that allow management and labor to cooperate in industries, from railroads and airlines to coal mines and auto factories, with a history of bitter relationships, such as those in baseball.

In 1983, for example, Usery helped arrange the contract between Toyota, General Motors and the United Auto Workers that allowed the peaceful opening of the new United Motors plant in Fremont, Calif. The deal evolved amid union fears that the Japanese company would try to open the plant as a non-union operation and has served as a model for cooperative efforts between management and labor elsewhere.

Usery began his career with the Machinists Union in the 1940s and eventually became that union's pick to coordinate operations at NASA's Cape Canaveral, Fla., launch site. His work there brought him to the attention of President Kennedy, who appointed him to work on labor relations at government missile facilities, which ultimately led to his appointment as the chief labor trouble-shooter under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He was labor secretary in the last year of the Ford Administration.

The current work stoppage is baseball's eighth since 1972 and has already foiled representatives of the mediation and conciliation service. Owners have not deviated from a salary-cap proposal that the union believes they intend to implement unilaterally in an attempt to break the union, destroy free agency and put an artificial ceiling on salaries.

There have been back-channel talks between some owners and the union regarding various tax concepts but no indication of progress, and the sides seem headed for another dispute regarding the issue of service time during the strike.

The union has advised 14 players who need varying amounts of time lost during the strike to qualify for free agency--including Jack McDowell, Jim Abbott and the Dodgers' Chris Gwynn, who needs only one day--to go ahead and file. The union insists that service time continued to build because the clubs maintained active rosters. A management lawyer disputed that interpretation and said the owners would file grievances if the 14 players tried to file.

Times staff writer David Lauter of the Washington Bureau contributed to this story.

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