Representatives of major league baseball players voted today to call a strike May 29 if their dispute with club owners over free-agent compensation isn't resolved by then.
In a 3 1/2-hour meeting with Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, representatives of the 26 major league clubs voted unanimously to back the walkout. It would be baseball's second regular-season strike since 1972.
The players' vote followed the owners' action on Feb. 19. The owners pthen unilaterally implemented a new and controversial proposal that would provide unprotected roster players as compensation for premium or "ranking" free agents signing with a new team.
Players contend that action will unreasonably restrict the bargaining power of free agents.
"The whole thrust is to inhibit free agency for many and end free agency for still more," said Miller.
In Washington, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn argued the new compensation is very fair. "I don't see there's any reason for a strike," he said.
A baseball strike over the compensation issue was narrowly averted last May. Only when it was separated from the rest of the agrreement between the owners and the players was a four-way contract reached, outlining basic working conditions for players.
A joint player-managerment committee was named to study the free-agent compensation issue, thus deferring it for a year. It failed to reach agreement, however, and last week the owners acted to implement their proposal.
Miller said the way is still open for negotiations on the issue, but no new talks have been scheduled with management. A poll of players will be taken just before the strike deadline, he said.
He said the contract in force prohibits the onwers from halting spring training or preventing the start of the regular season.
Two recommendations on the compensation issue from the players association were rejected by the owners, Miller said.
One was a suggestion that the owners creat a pool of money to be used as compensation. The other was to explore possible trades in the final year of a player's contract, he said.
"They said they weren't interested," Miller said.
Ray Grebey, head of baseball's player relations committee, said, "It appears as though the players' union continues to be more interested in rhetoric and press clipping then it is in the process of collective bargaining.
"The players' action in scheduling a strike is most regrettable. Any attempt to shift responsibility for their action to the 26 major league clubs is without foundation and entirely inexcusable.