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Thursday, September 2, 1999
Report: Umps, baseball reach deal, but 22 jobs lost

PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- The Major League Umpires Association apparently has struck out in its effort to save the jobs of 22 of its members.

ESPN is reporting that Major League Baseball and the union have reached a tentative agreement in their lingering dispute, but that the settlement deals with the termination package for the departing umpires -- and not the salvation of their jobs.

However, ESPN's report added that there is a possibility that some of the 22 umpires -- whose resignations are scheduled to be accepted after tonight's games -- could regain their jobs next season.

The cable network said that an announcement of the settlement will be made shortly. Officials for the union and baseball were not immediately available for comment.

The Umpires Association filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Monday seeking an injunction that would prevent baseball from accepting the resignations.

The umpires had hoped for a ruling by Tuesday, but none was issued by Judge J. Curtis Joyner, who has pushed for negotiations. Joyner supervised over seven hours of negotiations Tuesday and more talks are taking place today.

ESPN is reporting that Joyner does not plan to issue an injunction. As part of the settlement, the union will promise not to plan any strikes in support of the departing umpires.

The umps are scheduled to receive up to $400,000 in severance pay, depending on length of service.

While most of the umpires went about their assignments on Tuesday, veteran American League umpire Richie Garcia did not work his scheduled game at Detroit and instead was in the union offices here as union officials plotted their strategy.

Union president Jerry Crawford and Eric Gregg also missed assignments to be at the legal proceedings.

Most of the departing umpires working games this evening refused comment on the situation, including veteran crew chief Frank Pulli in St. Louis.

The lawsuit was filed Monday against the National and American Leagues after the umpires union filed a demand for arbitration Friday with the American Arbitration Association. The grievance was submitted after the leagues rejected that request.

Citing the "irreparable harm" that would be done to the 22 umpires, the suit is the latest attempt by the union to save face as well as the jobs of its members.

Thirteen NL and nine AL umpires stand to lose their jobs as the result of the ill-advised ploy by the union to get baseball officials to the negotiating table.

With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire December 31, union chief Richie Phillips urged the umpires to submit their resignations, effective Thursday. The strategy failed when many of the umpires refused to step down or rescinded their resignations.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction that will preserve the "status quo" of umpires pending a resolution. Baseball claims that the umpires have not been fired but that resignations were accepted.

The umpires tried to backtrack on their resignations, claiming it was only a "symbolic gesture." The current collective bargaining agreement protects against strikes and work stoppages, hence the idea of threatening mass resignations.

Phillips apparently overestimated the support from his members. Just 42 umpires -- 33 from the NL and nine from the AL -- held to their letters of resignation. All nine resignations from AL umps were accepted.

Crew chiefs Pulli and Terry Tata, who have a combined 55 years of major league experience, were among the umpires whose resignations were accepted.

Jim Evans, Greg Kosc, Joe West and Gregg, all with at least two decades of experience, also had their resignations accepted.

The departing umpires include highly rated umpires such as Pulli and Garcia and lower-rated officials such as Gregg and West. Drew Coble, a highly rated AL umpire, is losing his job while his wife is dying of cancer.

Three of the umpires -- Tom Hallion, Bill Hohn and Terry Tata -- are scheduled to work tonight's game between Milwaukee and Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. Hallion was suspended for three games earlier this year for bumping members of the Colorado Rockies during an argument.

Two more, Gary Darling and Larry Poncino, are working a series between the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres that continues tonight.

The union also is awaiting word from the National Labor Relations Board. Earlier this month, the union alleged a nine-month pattern of repeated actions "with disregard for the collective bargaining rights of their employees." The union suggests that baseball is trying to break the union and that the decision to accept the resignations was discriminatory and unlawful.

A union spokesman, however, said today it was likely that the NLRB would await any ruling from Joyner before deciding on the grievance.

The union filed a suit in U.S. District Court on July 26, citing grievances against baseball and seeking the right to withdraw the resignations. The suit was withdrawn before the leagues filed a motion to dismiss.

Among the issues dividing the umpires and baseball's central offices are the supervision of umpires and the strike zone.

The umpires have expressed frustration over the questioning of their integrity and approach. Baseball unsuccessfully has tried to centralize the duties of umpires, who have continued to enforce arbitrary guidelines, such as the strike zone, to their own taste.

Before the season, baseball executive vice president Sandy Alderson handed down an edict ordering umpires to call higher strikes, but it has been widely ignored.