A National Labor Relations Board hearing set for today in New York City was canceled yesterday after the two sides seeking to represent Major League Baseball umpires agreed to terms for an election on the issue next month. Thus, union lawyer and organizer Richie Phillips should know Nov. 30 whether his 21-year reign is over.
Ninety-three umpires will be eligible to vote when the secret ballots are mailed on Nov. 5, according to Daniel Silverman, the NLRB's regional director who approved the terms agreed to by the two sides. The eligible voters include the 22 umpires who lost their jobs in late August in the wake of an unsuccessful mass-resignation strategy championed by Phillips as well as the replacements hired by the commissioner's office.
The umpires will have three choices on the ballot:
* The Major League Umpires Association. Phillips's leadership of the union he organized in 1978 has been criticized since his strategy backfired to force the owners to the bargaining table prior to the end of the season. The current labor agreement with the umpires expires on Dec. 31.
* The Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee. The dissident group is led by umpires Dave Phillips, John Hirschbeck and Joe Brinkman. They want Baltimore agent Ron Shapiro, a less confrontational negotiator, to bargain for their new labor agreement. Baltimore-based Joel Smith is their labor lawyer.
* Neither option. In effect, this would amount to decertification of the current union and the desire to unionize with a group other than the current dissidents.
"At 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 30, we'll count the ballots and announce the winner," unless none of the three options has a majority of the votes cast, Silverman said. In that case, a run-off election would be necessary.
Neither faction thinks a runoff will be necessary, and each predicted victory yesterday.
"I think there's a majority of umpires out there who are looking for new leadership in the wake of what's happened," Dave Phillips told Bloomberg News.
Richie Phillips was unavailable to comment, but Pat Campbell, Phillips's top aide, told Bloomberg News, "We're going to prevail because I think the majority of umpires know what we've accomplished under this leadership."
When Phillips organized the union in 1978, umpires made a maximum of $40,000 annually. Under the current deal, they make from $75,000 to $225,000 in base salary. Also, each umpire is guaranteed a minimum of $20,000 in postseason bonus money, regardless of whether he works the playoffs.
The 22 umpires not rehired by Major League Baseball are seeking to regain their jobs and have filed grievances. Arbitration hearings are set to begin next week.