Contract talks between negotiators for the National Football League and the striking NFL Players Association broke off yesterday after 3 1/2 hours of what both sides described as futile discussions at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill. Each side blames the other for the impasse.
No additional meetings were scheduled after approximately 18 hours of talks here during the past three days.
In a related development, The Associated Press reported that it had obtained a copy of a management council directive to clubs, saying that no more than two weeks of called-off games could be made up. That confirmed what NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had been saying last week.
Said Jack Donlan, the NFL's chief labor negotiator, "We've had no progress over the last three days. We're at a terrible impasse. We can't agree on anything. They are not in a mind set to negotiate."
Said Ed Garvey, the executive director of the NFLPA, "They are refusing to bargain with us on every single subject. They have not bargained for five minutes since the process began in February. What we have here is a classic refusal to bargain."
As the nation's football fans faced the second Sunday of NFL games called off because of the league's first regular-season players' strike, management repeated its demand that federal mediators be invited in to help settle the dispute. The union repeated its demand that owners of the NFL teams come to the bargaining table to negotiate personally.
Donlan said the executive committee of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, will meet Monday to consider, among other things, whether to open practice facilities, invite players in and try to play games in spite of the strike. He added no decision is guaranteed Monday about opening camps.
But the union dismissed that notion as an idle threat. "I don't think they will do that," said NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Los Angeles Raiders. "The players won't fall for it. I have confidence that it won't work. We are close to organized labor and organized labor has made it clear who they support. There won't be any games."
Yesterday's talks focused on such issues as insurance, club discipline, grievance procedures and meal money. The players' central demand that a trust fund be set up to pay player salaries on a seniority based scale with performance incentive bonuses was put aside for most of the discussions. The league says it is firmly opposed to the concept of a trust fund and a wage scale.
But even on the lesser issues there was no meeting of the minds. "They were not here to bargain but to set up their desire to have a mediator intervene," said Garvey. "They refuse to bargain on any issue and then they step to the microphones and say 'We need a mediator.'
"When you have a mediator and the parties are separate then you have a communication problem. If they would bring their whole committee to the bargaining table and spend two days on the issues then maybe mediation would make sense."
But Donlan said, "I don't see how they can sit there with a straight face and say we don't need help. We obviously need third party intervention."
Donlan did not rule out a resumption of talks without a mediator, but he made it clear that he thinks there is little likelihood of progress without one.
"The talks are not going anywhere. Just to continue them gives everyone a false impression. We don't want to continue to have meetings like the last three days."
Donlan also criticized Garvey for not attending Friday's negotiating session.
"He's out trying to get the strike league off the ground, trying to win the strike. We're trying to resolve the strike."
Garvey said he spent Friday talking with labor leaders around the country but that he also thought he would try to see if negotiations might move along quicker if he did not attend the session.
On Capitol Hill Friday, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) introduced legislation aimed at ending the 12-day strike.
The bill would direct the players to return to work while the labor dispute was referred to a federal mediator. In the event mediation was unsuccessful both parties would be required to submit to binding arbitration.
Yesterday's adjournment of Congress means the measure will get no consideration until Congress returns for a lame duck session Nov. 29.
In a related development, the president of the United Steelworkers Union said the NFLPA has the support of his union.
"The United Steelworkers of America stands with those members of the NFLPA in their fight with the football team owners, and will stand with it -- as will the rest of organized labor -- until that fight is over," said Lloyd McBride, whose union is experiencing record unemployment (300,000 out of 1.3 million members).
"To those who own football teams, and indeed most owners of teams in other professional sports, the players are merely instruments through which they make their profits. For organized labor, such a role has never been enough."