A group calling itself the United States Football League Players Association Inc. has visited seven of the league's training camps in the first effort to unionize players in the new league.
Ron Baron, a New York attorney, and Ernie Holmes, a former player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, talked with members of the Washington Federals Saturday night in the team hotel in Jacksonville. Team officials say they gave the union representatives permission to talk with players outside the dining hall and that literature, including union authorization cards, were distributed. "My primary goal is to make sure the players' rights are protected," Baron said.
Baron said the response from players had been favorable. He said that 30 percent of the players on five of the teams visited had returned authorization cards.
Ed Garvey, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, said, "They have not had too much success. We've had about 12 players call us and say, 'Can you help? We don't want to end up with this outfit.' "
Garvey said he has sent four people, including Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA president, to talk to players in the USFL camps. "We're available if they want us to form a union," Garvey said. "We're not into saying, 'You've got to sign up now.' That's what the other fellow is doing. There's no point in panicking. There are 70 players in each camp. A lot of them won't be around in two weeks. Nothing dramatic is going to happen in the next month."
In order for the USFLPA Inc. to become the collective bargaining agent for the league, the group must get a 30 percent authorization vote from the total membership at the time the cards are signed, Garvey said. If that is obtained, they can ask the National Labor Relations Board to hold a secret ballot election to choose the collective bargaining agent. The players would be able to choose their representative from any group receiving authorization cards.
Garvey declined to say whether USFL players had already signed authorization cards for his group.
Baron said that, based on his talks with players, "the overwhelming majority want nothing to do with the NFLPA and Mr. Garvey in particular. They are looking for a separate identity."
Garvey said there would be a separate policy-making board "to guard against NFLPA dictating USFL policy. But obviously, it is a common interest to help the USFL because it offers competition."
Baron said that Holmes will be the union's director of community affairs. He is currently working as a field representative, visiting USFL camps in Arizona.
Baron, 25, graduated from the Delaware Law School of Widener College in 1982 and is an agent for nine USFL players. He works at a law firm, Baron and Vesel, headed by his father, which specializes in medical malpractice. He worked as an intern in the scouting department of the Buffalo Bills in 1978.
He and Garvey agree on one thing: the USFL needs union protection. Garvey said the player contract is "rather primitive."
Baron says it is "one-sided, almost unconscionable." He points out that the players have no injury protection. The basic salary is $10-$20,000. Baron says his union will advise players on "how to take advantage of lucrative endorsements," "get media exposure," and "provide a legal services plan," as well as "career and academic counseling."
Garvey said, "We're an established union. He has a brochure saying he's going to do this and that."