The National Labor Relations Board delayed a ruling today on the dispute between the National Basketball Association and its striking referees until new testimony could be heard.
No date for a ruling was set, and it appeared the NBA playoffs would begin as scheduled tonight without the services of the 24 striking members of the National Association of Basketball Referees.
Referees from the minor leagues and other officials who had been tested by the NBA in preseason and were used Sunday are expected to man the playoffs.
"Representatives of the complaining party (the NABR) have indicated they have further evidence to submit which will have a bearing on our decision," said Peter Hirsch, regional director of the NLRB in Philadelphia, where the complaint was filed. "The Board has decided to await this evidence before issuing any decision."
Hirsch said "it will be a couple of days" before the evidence is presented before the NLRB and "some time" after that before a decision will be made.
The new testimony is understood to be from Mike DiTomasso, a New York-based lawyer who handled negotiations between the referees and the NBA from June, 1973, through January, 1977. At that time the referees' union was called the NBA Officials Association, but when DiTOmasso was replaced by Philadelphia attorney Richie Phillips the organization became known as the NABR.
DiTomasso's testimony is supposed to deal with the question of whether his negotiations with the NBA on behalf of the referees represented individual or collective bargaining. "One of the charges the referees make is that the NBA has been engaged in collective bargaining for some time now," Hirsch explained. "If that is the case, then it would be unlawful to withdraw.
"If, as the union contends, what went on in past years was indeed collective bargaining, then the NBA is guilty of unfair labor practices as charged."
"Ross Taber handled those negotiations," NBA deputy commissioner Simon Gourdine said in New York about DiTomasso's dealings with the league office. "Before every negotiation he regularly stated to DiTomasso that this was not a collective bargaining session. I'd be very surprised if Mike said anything differently."
The question of prior collective bargaining is the second part of the NABR'd complaint of "unfair labor practises" againt the NBA. The first part has to do with the NBA's refusal to negotiate until it receives a notice of cretification from the NLRB that the NABR does indeed represent the league office.
The NABR contends that no notice is necessary, since the union clearly represents a majority of NBA officials - 24 of 26 - and there is no competing union.
"An employer can recognize a union voluntarily," explained Hirsch. "A union does not have to have certification by the NLRB. But unless an NLRB election is held, an employer can lawfully refused to recognized that union - provided that he does not engage in unfair labor practise in that time."
No NLRB election is scheduled. The NBA contends it never has bargained collectively and thus is not guilty of unfair labor practises.
Beyond the question of recognition for the union, there are other demands the striking referees want met.
A grievance procedure with an arbitration board. The referee considers this their No. 1 priority. The NBA can fire a referee arbitrarily. The referees want a three-man arbitration board - one from the referees, one from the league and one impartial. "Ninety per cent of the people they've let go in the past, we would back the decision 100 per cent," said Ed Rush, a veteran official. "We, as officials, are our best critics. But we want it decided on the merits and not a personality conflict, as can happen, and we can't do anything about it." They do not want union security, i.e., lifetime jobs, after a certain amount of time.
An increased salary: The range of salaries of the 24 referees on strike is from $18,000 to $38,772. This works out to $220 per game for a beginning referee, $335 per game average and $475 per game for the highest paid. Fulltime referees woek an 82-game regular-season schedule.
The referees want the beginning salary increased. They claim that pay scale is basically based on seniority and not ability. The NBA disputes this claim.
Increase in playoff salaries: The league last year paid $600,$700 and $800 per game, in step-ups as the playoffs progress. The top-paid official in last year's playoffs earned $5,500 on top of his regular salary.
Increase in both regular-season and playoff expenses: The full-time referees are paid $800 per month for seven months, or $5,600 expenses for the regular season. The league pays all air fare, first-class jet, and occasionally for rental cars. The referees, who travel approximately 160,000 miles a year, claimed they have to double up and stay in second-calss motels to make ends meet. The referees want the same food allowance as the players, $25 per day.
Severance pay: The item has been on the referees' list of demands for the last two contracts. The players currently get $3,000 for each year of service; the officials want something similar.
Credit for service as an ABA official in the pension plan and in salary: The referees who came from the ABA to the NBA this year received no credit for their ABA work in determining such benefits as pensions. One official will be working his ninth year before he is eligible for 4 per cent of his salary as a pension. The pension comes in the fifth year in the NBA. The NBA stand is that the ABA went out of business and that the NBA expanded, that legally there was no merger. The referees are upset because ABA players, as part of a legal settlement, received no cut in salaries and full ABA time applied to pension credit.
Notification of firing: Under the current contract, the league must notify an official within 30 days after the final playoff game.With length of playoffs, this can be as long as three months after the regular season. Referees want notification within 30 day after end of regular season, saying that a referee who is not to be retained is not likely a playoff referee anyhow.
The increase in insurance benefits: The referees want better coverage, especially in life insurance. They say that once they ceased officiating, they must pay high premiums to keep the same coverage. They claim the NBA can include them under a group policy for far smaller premiums.
The NBA has not addressed itself to any of the referees' demands.Gourdine told The Washington Post that doing so would, in labor law, mean that the lague was recognizing the union as the referees' collective bargaining agent.
"When they are certified," Gourdine said. "We'll say 'yes' on some, 'no' and 'maybe' on others.
Bill Walton said today he would be in the lineup when the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night in the opening game of their best-of-three NBA playoff series.
"I'll be in uniform and ready to play," said the 6-foot-77 center. "The only question I ever had about not playing was if the players association decide to honor the officials' picket lines. Then I would have not played."
There have been reports that Williams would honor a picket line by the striking referees.