Settlement of the 57-day National Football League strike moved a step closer to ratification yesterday as lawyers for management and the union began the painstaking process of working out precise language of the settlement package and then initialing approval of each page.
But minor snags developed over the issues of whether two union activists who were cut from NFL team rosters before the strike should receive severance pay. Executive Director Ed Garvey of the NFL Players Association said player representatives from the NFL's 28 teams would meet in Washington Monday "to go over the document with a fine-tooth comb."
The players are scheduled to vote in secret ballot Tuesday on whether the agreement should be approved. Player representatives will review the ballot at their Monday meeting and discuss options if the proposed settlement is defeated by the membership.
Although approval by the general membership is considered likely, there has been opposition. Last night, Garvey flew to Foxboro, Mass., to talk with New England players, who threatened a wildcat strike because of dissatisfaction with the proposed contract. After a 3 1/2-hour meeting with Garvey, the players agreed to play Sunday's game at Cleveland.
The tentative settlement that brought an end to the strike Tuesday came as the remainder of the 1982 season was on the brink of collapse, and within hours of management's deadline for withdrawing major portions of the offer it had placed on the bargaining table, according to management spokesmen.
For the players association, the agreement was reached as the union was deep in debt. It even was considering merging with another union, possibly the Teamsters, according to the NFLPA.
Both sides say there were several key elements in the chain of events that led to the agreement. Among them were the real possibility the remainder of the season might not be played; concerns by the NFLPA that more players might speak out against the union; a decision by the National Labor Relations Board not to expedite the processing of a complaint against management; management's threat to reduce its contract offer, and the union's finances.
In the end, according to the NFLPA, Garvey was forced to "cut the best deal he could get."
Since the strike began on Sept. 20, Garvey had not drawn a paycheck and other NFLPA employes have had their salaries cut by half. Without a settlement, there were concerns about its ability to survive independently.
Moreover, management was saying in no uncertain terms that unless there was a settlement in time for play to be resumed Sunday, the remainder of the season was finished. Even with Sunday's games, the regular season will include nine games, the shortest season in NFL history.
As the sides met Tuesday morning in New York to wrap up final details of the tentative agreement, management had already decided that Tuesday was also the deadline for removing a $60 million bonus package from its offer if an agreement was not reached that day. That plan gives players with four years or more NFL experience $60,000 in bonuses upon signing of a final agreement. Players with less experience get smaller bonuses.
There also was concern within the union leadership over public statements against the union by dissident members. Since the strike began, the NFLPA has maintained media coverage of dissident members has been exaggerated, but it also admits those members applied pressure to settle. That pressure increased last week when management distributed copies of its last offer to NFL clubs and told them to share details with players.
Finally, the decision by the NLRB not to press for court action on its general counsel's complaint that the NFL had failed to bargain with the union in good faith came as a blow to the union. The NFLPA had hoped the threat of court action might force management to increase its offer. Since the sides had last met Nov. 6, management had said it would not meet with the union unless the offer presented that day was accepted.
Coinciding with news of the NLRB's decision were feelers to the union from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service that it would be happy to become involved if it could help.
Garvey did meet with Kay McMurray, director of the FMCS, but nothing came of the meeting and on Saturday he turned to Paul Martha, a Pittsburgh lawyer and general counsel for the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team and the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL. A former back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Martha had remained in touch with Garvey throughout the strike.
Garvey talked with Martha by telephone all day Sunday. Martha talked with Dan Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a member of the executive committee of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm. Rooney, in turn, talked with Jack Donlan, the league's chief negotiator.
After 12 hours of telephone discussions Sunday, Martha came to New York on Monday to discuss terms of a final package with lawyers for both sides. After a brief flareup Monday, when the talks almost collapsed, the sides got back together Tuesday, when the tentative agreement was reached after 11 more hours of negotiations.
Martha became frustrated Monday because "both sides were missing the big picture.
"I tried to resolve that, and it didn't work, so we broke off," Martha told the Associated Press. "Garvey made another press statement that was derogatory. I thought we were at another impasse."
Said Martha: "I couldn't have done what I have without Danny Rooney. (And) Garvey has a militant image, but people don't realize he has to fight two sides."
One part of that agreement, both sides say, was participation in the "money now" bonus package by Herb Orvis of the Baltimore Colts and Mike Kadish of the Buffalo Bills, player representatives who were cut from team rosters before the regular season began.
"There was a legitimate concern there," Martha said. "This was one thing the owners were reluctant to give up until the final moment."
But as lawyers yesterday continued to work on draft language in the settlement proposal, management said it did not agree that Orvis and Kadish also were going to be awarded severance pay.