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NLRB Rules Against Phillips

January 21, 2000

Richie Phillips and the Major League Umpires Association lost again today when a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer decided there were no grounds to overturn the election that kicked them out in November.

Umpires, many angry at a failed mass resignation plan that backfired in July and cost 22 of them their jobs, voted 57-35 in November to form a new union.

Phillips and the MLUA appealed, claiming the new union was helped illegally by owners during the election, but the appeal was rejected today by NLRB hearing officer David E. Leach III, who heard three days of testimony this month.

The MLUA has two weeks to appeal Leach’s decision to the five-member NLRB in Washington.

Because of the appeal, bargaining for a labor contract to replace the one that expired Dec. 31 has been virtually nonexistent.

``Today’s NLRB decision removes any doubt that major league umpires will be represented by our new union,″ said American League umpire John Hirschbeck, one of the leaders of the insurgents.

``We now have the opportunity to move forward in the best interests of all umpires, the game of baseball and the public,″ Hirschbeck said. ``The only result from an appeal would be to delay the inevitable and to slow down bargaining for a new contact.″

The MLUA was not sure if it would appeal again.

``If after we read the opinion, we conclude there are grounds to appeal, then we’ll appeal,″ said MLUA lawyer Pat Campbell, who had not yet read Leach’s decision.

The new union called for an end to the infighting.

``It’s time now for Richie Phillips to yield to the will of a clear majority of the umpires and step aside,″ said Ron Shapiro, a lawyer and agent who has advised the insurgents. ``An appeal would only delay the inevitable now.″

Leach overruled the four objections filed by the old union, saying they either were irrelevant or were not supported by evidence, and recommended that Daniel Silverman, the NLRB’s New York regional director, certify the new union.

``It has been asserted that the employer is blatantly anti-Phillips and anti-MLUA, but the record is silent in this regard,″ Leach wrote in his 35-page report.

Phillips has led the MLUA to tremendous gains. When he became its negotiator in 1978, rookie umpires made $17,500 and the most senior umps got $40,000. In the contract that just expired, they made at least $95,000 each and could earn up to $282,500 apiece, including bonuses.

Many AL umps became increasingly uncomfortable with Phillips in recent years and some voted against renewing his contract before last season.

Worried about baseball’s plan to merge the AL and NL umpiring staffs, Phillips and MLUA president Jerry Crawford called for mass resignations in July. They said they were angry over the umpires’ working conditions, and many umps said they wanted to force an early start to labor negotiations.

The strategy collapsed when most AL umps either didn’t resign or quickly withdrew their resignations. Owners then hired 25 new umps from the minor leagues and accepted the resignations of the 22, effective Sept. 2.

That’s when the insurgents, led primarily by AL umps, began organizing the new union, the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee.

Phillips and the MLUA claimed the new union illegally tried to win votes by saying it could get a better deal with owners than the MLUA and that management employees told umpires to vote for the new union. It also said the failure to pay $20,000 postseason bonuses to the 22 illegally influenced the election.

``The employer’s position, while harsh, is certainly a matter for interpretation of the contractual language,″ Leach wrote.

Meanwhile, Phillips testified Thursday for a third straight day in Philadelphia before arbitrator Alan Symonette, who is hearing the MLUA’s grievance trying to gain back the 22 jobs.

Phillips has not yet completed his cross examination, and Symonette was uncertain when the case would resume.

Crawford is the only witness to complete his testimony.

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