Talks between striking football players and negotiators for the National Football League turned today to player pensions and other economic issues, with little progress reported.
The talks were recessed early this evening and negotiators planned to meet again Friday morning.
Meanwhile, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board said he will file a complaint against NFL negotiators, charging them with failing to bargain in good faith with the NFL Players Association.
In a press release issued through his Washington office, the counsel, William A. Lubbers, also accused the NFL negotiators of trying to bypass the union by attempting to deal directly with individual players and unilaterally changing terms and conditions of the players' employment.
Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, said Lubbers' announcement "confirms our long-held belief that they have been refusing to bargain since February." He said he expects management to change its bargaining tactics.
But the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, denied this.
"It is important to note that the general counsel's action is nothing more than the filing of a lawsuit," the management council said in a prepared statement. "This will, of course, shift action from the bargaining table to the courts and, unfortunately, most likely delay any settlement."
Sargent Karsh, the general counsel to the management council, said the charges "will impede negotiations because Mr. Garvey prefers to resolve matters in other forums. Our feeling is that they should be resolved at the bargaining table."
Karsh said today's actions wouldn't affect management's offer to the union.
Lubbers' action came as negotiators continued to bargain here on the economic issues of the strike, but the major issues of the dispute remain unaddressed.
As the strike completed its 31st day, talks were focusing on such topics as pension rights for players. Bargaining on the key issue of the strike, the players' demand that a trust fund be set up to pay player salaries on a seniority-based scale with performance incentive bonuses, has yet to take place.
Mediator Sam Kagel said at his afternoon press briefing that about 15 economic issues are in the total package and that cost figures for all of them must be worked out before a total price tag can be put on the settlement.
Clearly elated by Lubbers' statement that he will file unfair labor practice charges against the NFL, Garvey said the action "takes away the NFL's threat to close down for the season because all clubs will clearly be liable for back pay to all the players if the season is canceled. It also means that each striker will have an absolute right to reinstatement."
Even if the NFL lets the season die a slow death week by week, players might be eligible for back pay, Garvey said, because "the NLRB general counsel's statement confirms that this is indeed an unfair labor practice strike."
But Karsh denied this.
At the heart of Lubbers' charges is the disagreement between management and the union over the union's demand for a wage scale.
Federal labor law gives a union the right to bargain wages on behalf of its members, and the NFLPA has insisted this means management must negotiate a wage scale. The union contends management insisted illegally that it waive that right in favor of individual negotiations.
In his press release, Lubbers said the "NFL had insisted on a far more comprehensive waiver than the union had been willing to give and this has been a major impediment in the bargaining process."
But the management council, in its statement, said, "The essence of the complaint is that the general counsel and Garvey think there should be no more individual negotiations in the NFL, that a wage scale based on seniority can be the only source of player salaries. We think this is bad law and worse sense . . ."
Lubbers noted that the NFL will be given an opportunity to settle the case first. The general counsel emphasized that, while he plans to issue the complaint, that action could be averted by a settlement.
Under normal NLRB procedures, Lubbers' charges, once they are formally filed, would go to an administrative law judge for a hearing and that judge's decision could be appealed to the full five-member NLRB. Lubbers is empowered to recommend directly to the full board that it seek a court order compelling the NFL to bargain fairly. He said he had not decided which course to recommend. The management counsel said it will appeal all adverse decisions as far as the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Mike Fuller, player representative of the Cincinnati Bengals, said that, despite published reports, the players did not write Garvey that they were not in favor of continuing the strike just to win a wage scale.
Fuller said a letter was written to Garvey before the mediation talks began. But, he said, "we have not urged them to drop it (the wage scale), not at all. We simply don't want the owners to use the wage scale as a scapegoat for not coming up with something better."
In New Orleans, player representative Russell Erxleben of the Saints said he's asking teammates if they want to resume training camp while negotiations continue.
The key, he said, would be a promise that negotiations would continue in good faith, with mediation, after play resumed.
He said he was aware that Russ Francis of the San Francisco 49ers had made a similar proposal earlier in the day.