Umpires Agree to New Labor Contract

Saturday, September 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Ending six months of often acrimonious negotiations, baseball and its new umpires' union agreed to a labor contract running through 2004 that calls for raises averaging about 15 percent.

The deal, which must be ratified by the parties, was concluded late Thursday night and does not contain any provisions for rehiring the 22 umps terminated last Sept. 2 after a failed mass resignation by the umpires.

In recent days, owners offered to rehire 13 of the 22, adding Richie Garcia, Drew Coble and Larry Poncino to the 10 it previously offered to take back, according to three sources involved in the talks who spoke on the condition they not be identified.

But that offer was rejected by the old union, Richie Phillps' Major League Umpires Association, which still represents the 22.

Baseball withdrew its offer Friday, leaving the fate of the 22 with arbitrator Alan Symonette, who will decide sometime after Nov. 15 if they were illegally terminated.

``We're confident we'll win,'' MLUA lawyer Pat Campbell said Friday.

Under the old agreement, which covered 1995-99, umpires had base salaries of $75,000 to $225,000, depending on seniority, and each ump was guaranteed an annual $20,000 bonus if the postseason was played. Umpires could earn an additional $37,500 in bonuses for becoming crew chiefs and working special events, such as the playoffs and World Series.

While the sides didn't announce the details, the new scale starts at $86,000 to $88,000 and tops out at $260,000, one source in the talks said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, and the annual bonus increases to $23,000.

``There were substantial increases in salaries and pensions,'' said John Hirschbeck, president of the new union, the World Umpires Association. ``I think it's a great contract. I'm very happy with it.''

Umpires, upset at what they felt was unfair discipline against them by the commissioner's office, wanted an arbitrator who would hear appeals, but fell short.

Instead, an independent fact finder will review the facts and give them to the commissioner, who then will make the final decision.

``It give the umpire and full and fair hearing, and gives the commissioner the right to take the shot,'' said Larry Gibson, one of the WUA's lawyers.

Owners fell short of their goal of forcing umpires to get permission to speak with reporters. The system, according to both sides, will be virtually unchanged, with crew chiefs, in most cases, available for reporters about 15 minutes after each game.

In addition, the sides established a joint committee that will set up a system for umpire evaluation.

``I think we've got a a pretty good deal for everybody,'' management lawyer Rob Manfred said. ``It really lays the foundation for a good relationship with this union going forward.''

Phillips and the MLUA, frequently confrontational with owners and players, began the turmoil among the umps following the 1999 All-Star game, calling for mass resignations as a way of forcing an early start to negotiations.

That strategy collapsed when many umps, mostly in the AL, either refused to resign or withdrew their resignations. Owners then terminated the 22 and hired replacement from the minor leagues.

Many of the umps, mostly from the AL, then formed the new union and forced a federally supervised election, which voted out the MLUA.

Negotiations for the new labor contract began Feb. 29, led by Hirschbeck and a pair of lawyers, Joel Smith and Gibson, with owners represented by Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, and their top two labor lawyers, Manfred and Frank Coonelly.

About 40 umps are members of the new union and will vote on ratification.

``I am very pleased that we have reached an agreement with the umpires,'' commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. ``Our umpires are the best in the world.''

Under pressure from the new union, baseball offered in June to rehire Gary Darling, Bob Davidson, Bruce Dreckman, Jim Evans, Tom Hallion, Ed Hickox, Bill Hohn, Sam Holbrook, Paul Nauert and Larry Vanover.

In recent days, baseball added Garcia, Coble and Poncino to the offer, on the condition Hickox, Holbrook and Nauert start in the minor leagues and get called up as openings occurred.

That would have left only nine of the 22 without jobs: Dale Ford, Ken Kaiser, Larry McCoy, Frank Pulli and Terry Tata would have retired; and Eric Gregg, Mark Johnson, Greg Kosc and Joe West would have been given buyouts.

In a grievance, the MLUA asked Symonette to order all 22 rehired, claiming they should have been allowed to withdraw their resignations.

Symonette finished hearing testimony Tuesday and gave the sides until Oct. 31 to submit briefs, with reply briefs due Nov. 15.