It was Tuesday afternoon in the board room of the New York Sheraton and Jack Donlan, chief labor negotiator for the National Football League, had just handed the NFL Players Association a proposal covering player wages, fringe benefits and working conditions through July 15, 1987. Perhaps, he suggested, the union's bargaining committee would like some time to study it.
That wouldn't be necessary, said Ed Garvey, the executive director of the players association, flipping through the pages of the half-inch-thick document.
"I've taken a course in speed reading," Garvey said. Moreover, he added, "We've all seen this before. It's the same thing they gave us in February in Miami."
The players last week rejected Donlan's counterproposal with a speed and finality matched only by Donlan's rejection last month of the NFLPA's proposal that the league divert 55 percent of its gross annual income to player salaries and benefits. .The NFL's proposal would have increased minimum salaries, fringe benefits and bonuses for postseason play and allowed for easier movement of players from one team to another.
"We had hoped this proposal could have been the basis for discussion," said Donlan. "We did not characterize it as a final offer. Their response is very distressing. It is similar to what we proposed in Miami because we are building on the existing contract. That is a traditional way to bargain."
NFLPA members countered with a detailed chart showing that at virtually all levels the minimum salary proposals from the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, failed even to keep pace with the cost of living. "We wait six months, and they give us something like this," said Garvey, who contends Donlan and the management council have no real authority to negotiate on behalf of league and the owners. "We're waiting for someone over at 410 Park Avenue (NFL headquarters) to throw a switch and then maybe they'll bargain in earnest. But we don't know when that will be."
Donlan insists he has full authority to bargain and make an agreement on behalf of the league and owners.
After six months of sporadic negotiations and with the July 15 expiration of the contract between the NFLPA and the management council now past, the sides appear no closer to accord than they were in February. They have yet to agree on anything, and in many respects the bad feeling between them only increases with each negotiating session.
Those feelings may have reached a nadir Thursday, near the conclusion of three days of talks in New York, when Donlan angrily denounced the NFLPA leadership for being antileague. NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Oakland Raiders responded that Donlan's outburst "was a slap in the face of the NFL players who elected us."
That interchange followed an informal NFLPA press conference at which special counsel Joseph A. Yablonski attacked the management council negotiators for "an incredible degree of insensitivity to the needs of the players" after they rejected a proposal that the NFL fund a counseling program that would include treatment for players dependent on illegal drugs.
Every time it gets a chance, the players association tries to embarrass the NFL, Donlan said. When Don Reese, a former defensive lineman, wrote a first-person account in Sports Illustrated of his involvement with cocaine, Donlan said the NFLPA had tried to make it appear that the league was responsible.
When Rep. Fortney H. Stark (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would block the Oakland Raiders' move to Los Angeles and specifically sanction the existing practice of NFL clubs' sharing television, playoff and Super Bowl revenue, the NFLPA opposed it, Donlan noted.
As talks were recessing last week, Donlan said he does not think there will be a strike and Upshaw predicted there will be a football season this fall.