Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Owners Push `Hot Button' but Playes Stick with Date

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Owners Push `Hot Button' but Playes Stick with Date

Article excerpt

Even as words and stances sharpened on baseball's labor front Thursday, the players said they will stick to striking later rather than sooner.

Despite anger with management's failure to make a $7.8 million pension payment, the players' executive board accepted the advice of union head Donald Fehr and decided to stay with its Aug. 12 strike date rather than order an immediate walkout.

Fehr said as many as 10 teams took straw polls Wednesday night and Thursday, and that many favored striking sooner.

"We feel that they were trying to push our hot button to get us to go out earlier than the date we specified," Los Angeles Dodgers player representative Brett Butler said.

Fehr said he advised the board to stick with the date it had chosen last week.

"Just because the owners are behaving in an irresponsible and provocative manner doesn't mean the players have to do so," he said at a news conference.

While negotiators from both sides met later in the day, neither side budged from its position on a salary cap, leaving baseball heading toward its eighth work stoppage in 22 years. Eugene Orza, the union's No. 2 official, said no formal talks were scheduled for today but that working groups would meet.

At times during his news conference, management negotiator Richard Ravitch spoke as if a strike already had begun, saying employers never make benefit payments during work stoppages.

"I'm pleased the tempest in a teapot has passed and we're back to the bargaining table to talk about the real issues," he said.

Ravitch said owners refused to make the payment because the pension agreement expired March 19. While the agreement says owners don't have to pay the money if the All-Star game isn't played, it doesn't say that owners must pay the money if the agreement has expired and the game is played.

"I understand the players may be sorry we didn't make a payment we weren't obligated to make," Ravitch said.

Fehr said players are owed the pension money, claiming the Aug. 1 due date traditionally has been tied to the All-Star game.

"What they're trying to take away is our health benefits and that's important, but we decided the 12th is the best day for both sides," Jay Bell of the Pittsburgh Pirates said.

Fehr threatened either a lawsuit over the nonpayment, action before the National Labor Relations Board or a grievance before George Nicolau, baseball's independent arbitrator.

"It is very provocative and perhaps intentionally so," Fehr said. "It simply flies in the face of any reason to believe the desire of management to reach an agreement without a strike. …

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