Union player representatives from the National Football League's 28 teams voted unanimously today to empower the NFL Players Association's nine-member executive committee to call a strike any time in its efforts to reach a settlement in contract negotiations with the league's Management Council.
But the players stopped short of setting an actual strike deadline. Ed Garvey, the NFLPA's executive director, said there is no consensus yet on when a strike would be most effective.
Asked if there will be a strike, he said: "I think so."
Today's meeting, called following the collapse of contract negotiations last week in Washington, was the first gathering of representatives from all teams since the old agreement between management and the union expired July 15.
"We're stronger now than we ever were," said Gene Upshaw of the Los Angeles Raiders, the union's president. "We're not on the defense. We're on the offense." More than 1,300 of the NFL's 1,500 players have signed strike authorizations, said Upshaw, adding that if there is a strike, "It will come when there is most pressure on management and least pressure on our people."
Dan Jiggetts of the Chicago Bears, the union's vice president, said today's meeting demonstrates "that we are ready to go. We are holding some teams back."
Mark Murphy, the Washington Redskins' player representative, who last week argued no meaningful negotiations would occur until a strike deadline is set, sidestepped a question on whether the Redskins are one team that needs holding back.
"Let's just say the players have very strong feelings about the way negotiations have been going," he said. "We thought it was important to come out of this meeting and to make it clear that the committee has the authority to call a strike when it sees the need."
The players also voted to decline any involvement of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in the negotiations until the Management Council "puts a good faith offer on the table and . . . puts negotiators on its committee who have authority to make a deal."
Throughout the talks, union leaders have insisted the NFL's chief negotiator, Jack Donlan, has no real authority to make a deal. They have demanded that NFL owners or Commissioner Pete Rozelle participate in the negotiations.
Donlan says he has full authority to negotiate on behalf of the owners. He formally requested the assistance of the mediation service in the stalled talks last week.
The seven-member executive committee of the Management Council, the league's labor-negotiating arm, has a regularly scheduled meeting in New York on Wednesday.
Spokesman Jim Miller said today's action by the player representatives would be one of the issues on the agenda. He denied reports circulating at the meeting here that the Management Council's meeting was called to decide whether to lock out the players if there is no agreement by Sept. 12, when the regular season is scheduled to begin.
Garvey said some players are being told by the owners that management soon will come up with an offer to provide a 20 percent across-the-board salary increase for all players.
"That is not of interest because it does not deal with the primary issue," Garvey said. He reiterated the NFLPA's position: that the key issue in the negotiations is the union's demand that the NFL divert 55 percent of its gross income to a trust fund that would pay players on a seniority-based scale, with performance incentive bonuses.
Management has said it will never agree to a wage scale based on percentage of gross revenue.
Garvey said the chief value of today's meeting was its expression of solidarity on the part of the players. When general managers from teams around the league ask the player representatives on their teams about it, he said, "They will learn that if the executive committee decides to call a strike, the players will walk."