The Major League Players Association today rejected the pension proposal presented Tuesday by the owners and indicated that there might be a halt in the negotiations.
The union said it is set to strike next Tuesday unless there is an agreement, a major component of which will be the owners' contribution to the players' benefit and pension fund.
"No, we're not farther apart," Lee MacPhail, who represents the owners as head of the Player Relations Committee, said after the 1 1/2 hour meeting at the major league offices. "How can we be farther apart?"
The scheduling of meetings always has been done on a day-to-day basis, and Donald Fehr, acting executive director of the union, is to call MacPhail by 11 a.m. Thursday if he wants to meet during the day.
"We're not going to meet unless there is something positive to talk about," MacPhail said. "It doesn't make any sense to sit across a table from each other and argue about the points. If either side can come up with a new approach, then it would be productive to have a meeting."
The owners' proposal would increase their pension fund contribution from $15.5 million per year to $25 million, but would tie that increase to player salaries. If total player salaries increased more than $13 million a year, the owners' pension fund contribution would decrease a corresponding amount. For example, if the salaries increased $14 million -- $1 million more than the limit -- the owners' contribution would drop by $1 million, to $24 million. But if salaries increase as expected by an average of $34 million from 1985 to 1988 -- and easily could increase more -- the owners might not have to contribute anything.
"What we told them, and what we believe to be true," said Fehr, "was that the effect of making the proposal was made at the very least with the knowledge that it would drive the two sides farther apart, and it makes the eventual reaching of an agreement more difficult, not less.
"This morning I went to Shea Stadium," he said. "I explained the proposal and our reaction to it to all the players on both clubs (the Mets and Montreal Expos). My prediction of how they would react was accurate. The proposal produced anger. It produced solidity among the players, and if anything, reinforced the overwhelming impression that the players have had for a long time, which is that the owners are not serious about trying to reach an agreement."
The owners left the pension proposal on the table along with their salary cap proposal.
One part of the pension proposal drew an angry response from union consultant Marvin Miller, leader of the union during the 1981 strike. It involved the contribution to the pension fund for 1984 and 1985. As Miller explained it, at the end of the negotiations to end the strike in 1981, the two sides agreed that whatever was negotiated for the contribution in 1985 would be retroactive for 1984, when the last collective bargaining agreement expired. At the time, both sides knew there would be a new, more lucrative network television contract, and indeed a $1.1 billion deal was signed before the 1984 season.
The owners' plan proposed Tuesday, however, calls for the pension fund contribution increase of $9.5 million for 1985 (and therefore retroactively for 1984) to be withheld because the salaries in 1985 are expected to go over the $13 million break-even figure.
"Now I've seen trickery and deceit in collective bargaining but not quite to equal that," Miller said. "I have a commitment to assist Don Fehr, the staff and the executive board as best I can, and will do that, but I advised them that unless that proposal was repudiated, I would have nothing further to do with them."
MacPhail didn't dispute that there was an agreement, but denied any trickery.
"There was no attempt to be tricky at all," MacPhail said. "What I told Marvin was that if he didn't like that approach, fine. We would drop that and find some other way."