Don Fehr, the general counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said yesterday he believes Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, has a predetermined schedule for how and when to progress in the stalled negotiations.
"I think there is a good likelihood that everything is being done according to a prearranged schedule," Fehr said.
When negotiations broke off Friday, the players representing the union said the strike was orchestrated and organized by Grebey and the owners' Player Relations Committee.
Fehr went further yesterday. "I think the likelihood is that within certain limits they have sketched out a plan (for what they are going to do). How many people they've told, I don't know. They went to get to a certain result by forcing the players to stay out and threatening to beat them over the head with the strike until they cave in. If they don't cave in, there will be a another series of threats against them . . . It's flat out intimidation."
Mark Belanger, the Orioles' player representative, and a member of the players' bargaining team, agreed. "I have an idea they are going to wait us out, see how many guys teeter and say, 'I have house payments coming up, I've got to get back to playing.' I think it's a very good possibility that there is a schedule they have made. But I can't prove it."
A moment later, Belanger said it seems "they're going to fix us for giving us all that money."
Grebey said: "this is not an organized strike. We didn't call the strike.
We'd all be much better off back at the bargaining table rather than engaging in public rhetoric and emotional statements. Our prearranged schedule was to be at the bargaining table today."
The strike is now in its ninth day. The season lasts 180 days and a player must have 172 days in order to get credit for a full year's service under the free agent and pension systems. So, unless the players are given service credit for the time they are on strike, those who would become free agents at the end of this year would become inelibible after today.
Grebey has said repeatedly that the owners would not give credit for strike days. "It is fair to say that it is standard practice in strikes that people striking don't get paid, pension service credit or seniority. Baseball is no different," Grebey said.
The players association has maintained that they will not settle without it. Fehr said, "One of the things they wanted was to get past the ninth day, so they could use this against the players."
The longer the strike goes on, the more ancillary issues there will be to solve, complicating the terms for a settlement.
If the strike lasts as long as the All-Star game, scheduled to be played July 14, the pension contributions that would be made to the players would also come into question. The owners are supposed to contribute $2.4 million to the players pension fund after the All-Star game. The World Series is worth about $13.1 million to the players.
The players association contends that the owners will not be excused from making those contributions, in the event the strike goes that long, because they believe the owners have engaged in an unfair labor practice and have failed to bargain in good faith. A hearing on that charge is scheduled to begin June 29.
After the talks broke off Friday, Grebey issued a statement saying the talks had been broken off at the request of the players. Belanger said, "We figured he would turn it around and say we called off negotiations. That's his game."
The owners had been scheduled to meet Wednesday in Kansas City, to discuss broadcast contracts and to get an update on the strike negotiations. But Grebey said the meeting has been canceled "in view of the attitude and the position taken" by the players association.
One member of the players' negotiating team said he had been told that it has been canceled because "they don't want to get the dissident (owners) in one room together."
And a third source maintained the postponement was a result of a potential air traffic controllers strike.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has ordered all major league clubs to "avoid helping the media contact players" during the strike, the New York Daily News reported.
The newspaper said Kuhn sent a memo to major league chief executives and general managers May 22.
Kuhn spokesman Bob Wirz told the paper that the edict was issued because "the players are on strike and we -- the clubs -- are not in regular contact with the players while they're on strike. Nor is it really appropriate for us to be in contact with them."