The National Football League's Management Council last night "strongly recommended" to the 28 NFL member clubs that they rescind the fines imposed on players for engaging in symbolic solidarity handshakes before last weekend's exhibition games.
"The handshakes are no big thing. It was what we saw coming down the road," said Jack Donlan, the executive director of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiation arm.
Donlan acted after a five-hour meeting here yesterday with William A. Lubbers, general counsel to the National Labor Relations Board regarding a complaint by the NFL Players Association that the fines -- $100 in most cases -- constituted an unfair labor practice.
Donlan said he asked the NLRB to urge the NFLPA to return to the bargaining table to resume negotiations as soon as possible and to seek assurances that there would be no disruptions of NFL exhibition games.
"We had heard the handshakes were only a beginning," said Donlan. "Then there were going to be missed practices and delayed games."
Donlan said he is urging the clubs not only to rescind the fines, but to "refrain from fining future undisruptive similar handshakes in the hope that the union leadership will come to the bargaining table . . . We are making this decision in the name of good-faith bargaining."
Donlan's move came as Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, said yesterday there was increasing pressure among NFLPA rank-and-file members to strike selected NFL exhibition games this weekend to protest the fines -- although the NFLPA was trying to discourage such action.
Informed of the Management Council decision, Garvey said, "We are delighted that the Management Council has backed down. It is a victory for the players who have put it on the line and a positive statement about the NLRB and its ability to act under pressure."
Garvey said the union is prepared to meet with management anytime, but the meeting must be held near a training camp site where a player representative of the union's executive committee can be present. Donlan says management will meet anywhere but at a training camp site.
Garvey had said earlier yesterday that some teams, Detroit and Seattle in particular, "were so infuriated as to what was happening that they might strike on their own. We've asked them not to do that.
"We're asking our members to cool it, to wait for the NLRB" to decide on the handshake issue, Garvey had said, adding that "if they don't make a decision by Friday noon, some of the players feel they may have to take action."
The NFL, Garvey charged, was "intentionally violating the law by trying to provoke a strike before we are ready to strike."
But Donlan had claimed Garvey was the one provoking a strike. "Ed's been talking about strikes since 1980," Donlan said. "We've felt all along he's been looking to strike rather than to settle."
Since the expiration of their contract July 15, Donlan said, "the players have a right to take a job action, but they don't have a right to unilaterally change the working conditions."
Garvey contended that the fines have, if anything, made the players more united against the league. In Cincinnati and Detroit, he said, the $100 fines have already been withheld from the players' paychecks, and in Seattle the players did not get their regular Monday paychecks.
Members of the Lions met yesterday at their training camp in Rochester, Mich., but postponed any decision on a possible protest strike against Saturday's exhibition game with the Los Angeles Raiders.
John Thompson, general manager for the Seattle Seahawks, said the players were paid yesterday afternoon and that the two-day delay was caused by the fact that the paychecks had to be reprocessed to deduct the fines against the handshaking players.
Seattle is fining each player one-half a week's pay based on a 16-week season, but Thompson said the fines are being deducted in installments with each player forfeiting half his weekly preseason paycheck. Rookies earning $300 a week during the preseason are having $150 deducted from their paychecks, he said.
Sam McCullum, the union's player representative on the Seahawks, told the Associated Press, "the players are angry. We have talked about a work stoppage." But McCullum said the players would not call a work stoppage until the NLRB decided on the union's request for an injunction to halt the fines.
Normally such requests take weeks or months, but yesterday's decision was made under a procedure in which the NLRB's general counsel can ask the five-member board to seek an immediate injunction from a federal court.
In another development yesterday, the NFLPA and the Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting Company announced plans to televise an "unofficial season" of all-star games involving NFL players in the event of a strike or lockout.
As described at a press conference, the NFLPA would organize six teams, one from each division in the American and National Football Conferences. In the event of a season-long work stoppage, there would be two games scheduled each week for nine weeks, with the teams playing on a rotating basis.
Games would be played on Sunday afternoon and Monday night at between 14 and 18 different sites around the country. A championship game would be held Dec. 19 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
Robert Wussler, executive vice president of Turner Broadcasting, said the games would be broadcast to Turner's 22 million cable households nationwide. He also said Turner would try to negotiate deals with commercial television stations throughout the country to carry the games.
Officials would not disclose financial terms of the agreement, but the NFLPA will receive a reported $500,000 per game. Players would be chosen by ballotting among all NFL players and would receive $4,000 to $5,000 per game.
Former Washington Redskin Brig Owens, now an assistant to Garvey, will coordinate the unofficial season if there is one.