The striking NFL Players Association was reported today to have backed off its previous demands for a central salary fund and a guarantee of a share of future television revenues. But today's negotiations between the owners and players bogged down over the issue of minimum salaries.
On the 43rd day of the strike, management continued to be hopeful that a settlement could be reached. But union officials were known to feel that an agreement was not yet in sight despite what the NFLPA considered major concessions on the television and salary fund issues.
Talks between the two sides were recessed this afternoon and mediator Sam Kagel met with the six members of the executive committee of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm. A management council spokesman said the meeting was similar to one Kagel had Monday with NFLPA player representatives.
Later in the day, meetings resumed until about 8 p.m, when they again recessed.The two sides were scheduled to meet face-to-face at 8 a.m. Wedneday for what was scheduled as a 1 1/2 hour session and again at 11 a.m.
Removal of the players' demand for a salary fund and a guarantee of a share of television money from the bargaining table represents a significant departure from what the union had contended all along was a major component of its collective-bargaining demand.
Initially, the players had demanded that the NFL divert money to a trust fund that would pay player salaries on a seniority-based scale with performance-incentive bonuses. The television issue was intended to be a hedge for the union against any unexpected deals the league might cut in the future with cable television networks.
Reportedly, there is an agreement that permits the union to reopen discussions with the NFL should there be any new television deals.
Remaining major obstacles to resolution of the dispute include the minimum-salary structure, or wage scale, and the question of what percentage of total player costs the NFL owners will be free to spend at their discretion and what percent of spending will be dictated by terms of the collective-bargaining agreement.
The NFL has offered the union a five-year contract with total player costs of $320 million a year for the last four years of the agreement. This year's terms are yet to be negotiated, but they are said to include an offer of immediate cash payments to players.
The union had most recently been demanding $1.1 billion over three years, but it was learned yesterday the union considers the length of the contract negotiable in return for a concession from management.
Minimum salaries, however, appeared to present the greatest obstacle. For four-year veterans, for example, management is offering a $60,000 minimum under a plan that starts at $30,000 for rookies and increases $10,000 a year with each year of experience. Such players would also be eligible for $60,000 in severence pay if they retire after four years, under the management proposal.
Under the union's current proposal, four-year veterans would get a $139,000 minimum. Moreover, union officials say that figure represents a concession from the $170,000 it demanded last June for four-year veterans and the $158,000 they would get in the union's revised Sept. 17 proposal. Four-year veterans currently average $83,000 a year.
But the sides still were arguing today over the degree to which bonuses would be included in computing the minimums. The union has insisted that performance-incentive bonuses be written into the contract, but that issue remained a matter to be resolved at the bargaining table.
The union also wants 80 percent of the player-compensation package spent according to terms set forth in the collective-bargaining agreement, but management wants to spend a larger share in individual negotiations. It has offered to spend 37 1/2 percent of its player costs according to the collective-bargaining formula.
Meanwhile, a delegation of player representatives met this afternoon with Dan Silverman, director of the National Labor Relations Board's New York Regional Office, to press for action on a complaint Silverman issued last week that charged the NFL with violating federal labor laws by refusing to bargain in good faith.
The players asked Silverman to urge NLRB General Counsel William A. Lubbers to ask the five-member NLRB to authorize the general counsel to seek a court order that would compel the NFL to bargain in good faith. A spokesman for Lubbers said today that no decision has been made.
The NFL Management Council said the players' energies would be better spent attempting to resolve the dispute at the bargaining table.
In another development, delegations of players met informally today with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to discuss their concern over lack of progress in the negotiations. A spokesman for Rozelle said the commissioner promised to relay their concerns to NFL negotiators.
Rozelle took no action in canceling this weekend's schedule of games, although Tuesday has been the day such action normally has been taken. Don Weiss, executive director of the NFL, said Rozelle is holding off as long as possible on officially announcing the cancellation. "Pete is determined not to influence the talks by canceling the games too early," Weiss said.