There is growing support within the National Football League Players Association for a job action or work stoppage during training camp or the exhibition season unless substantial progress is made at the bargaining table, the union said yesterday.
"We are going to have to demonstrate the solidarity of the union to management during the preseason," Ed Garvey, the NFLPA's executive director, told a news briefing after two days of talks between the union and the NFL Management Council recessed without agreement on any issues.
Garvey said the word is being passed to NFLPA player representatives on the league's 28 teams "that management is not serious about bargaining."
What the union is considering, Garvey said, is "a series of measures to let management know that we are around."
Although he would not be specific, Garvey said spot strikes aimed at forcing cancellation of one or more of the NFL exhibitions are among the options under consideration. The exhibition season opens Aug. 7, when the Baltimore Colts play the Minnesota Vikings in the Hall of Fame game at Canton, Ohio.
Movement toward a preseason job action is a shift in position for the NFLPA, which previously had said that if there was a strike, it would be during the regular season.
But the NFLPA has been increasingly frustrated by lack of progress in bargaining. Some union members say they want to send a message to the NFL that they will insist on serious bargaining.
Mark Murphy, the player representative of the Washington Redskins and a member of the bargaining committee, observed that Jack Donlan, the NFL's chief labor negotiator, has said he will assess union strength in the week before the regular season opener Sept. 12 before deciding whether to call a lockout if no agreement has been reached.
"It's incumbent on us to do something that will show him that we are strong," Murphy said. He discounted the influence of such well-known players as Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Craig Morton of the Denver Broncos and Jim Zorn of the Seattle Seahawks, who have criticized publicly the NFLPA and the possibility of a strike.
"There are probably less than 10 of them," Murphy said.
Said Garvey, "They hear one voice speak out against the union, and they think it represents hundreds."
As the talks recessed yesterday, the sides remained apart on the issue of the right to test players for drug or other chemical dependency. Donlan proposed the clubs have the authority to test players once before the season, and then afterward if they had a reason to suspect a player was using drugs or if there was a sudden drop-off in on-field performance.
"We have instructed the players not to participate in any tests. It is not a legal subject of bargaining, and we will not discuss if further," said Garvey. Earlier this week, Donlan said the management council would not agree to any contract unless it specifically authorized tests of players for drugs or chemical dependencies.
Bargaining is to resume Tuesday and Wednesday, but it was not immediately clear where. As management negotiators left, they said the talks would be held in New York. Garvey said the talks would have to be held in Washington to permit players on the bargaining committee to work out in preparation for training camp.
Most training camps will have opened by the end of next week. After that, players will not be able to participate in most negotiations.