Originally created 08/31/99

Umpires sue owners again



NEW YORK -- In yet another legal effort to keep their jobs, umpires sued baseball in federal court Monday, asking for an injunction to keep 22 umps working.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, the Major League Umpires Association claimed the 22 are being terminated against their will, and union head Richie Phillips said "permanent unemployment ... is a virtual certainty."

"The leagues' refusal to retain the 22 umpires -- fully a third of the umpire work force -- threatens to complete the destruction of the union's effectiveness as a collective bargaining agent," Phillips said.

Baseball said the umpires aren't being fired, that it accepted the resignations of the 22, effective after Wednesday's games, as a result of a failed mass resignation strategy the umpires embarked on after the All-Star game.

The union filed a grievance against the American and National leagues late Friday, then went to court Monday, saying they would be irreparably harmed if they are let go.

"Immediate injunctive relief is appropriate and necessary to maintain the status quo to permit the arbitrator to consider and act upon the dispute," the 16-page complaint said. "Unless promptly enjoined, the leagues will not cease and desist from their unlawful course of action."

U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner scheduled a hearing today.

Umpires also sued baseball July 26, but withdrew the case Aug. 16 just before the leagues were to file a motion to dismiss. Baseball says all of the matters are covered by either binding arbitration or the National Labor Relations Board.

Umpires filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB's New York regional office Aug. 3, asking the agency to issue a complaint and to seek an injunction. The NLRB has not yet ruled on the charges.

"We're still evaluating the evidence," Daniel Silverman, the NLRB's New York regional director, said Monday. "I'm still hopeful we'll have a decision his week. There won't be a decision before the hearing tomorrow."

Presumably in an effort to humanize the case, the complaint lists all the umpires scheduled to be terminated along with their marital status and the number of children and grandchildren they have.

Umpires said baseball would be harmed if the 22, who have a combined 355 years of major league experience, were let go. They cited a quote from President Nixon, who arbitrated a 1985 dispute between umpires and baseball.

"The leagues should recognize that umpires have a special relationship to the game, which is different from that of players," Nixon said. "Umpires should not be treated as employees but as judges who are independent of both players and owners, whose primary responsibility is to maintain the integrity of the game."

Umpires, fearful baseball would lock them out after their labor contract expires Dec. 31, announced July 14 they would quit en masse to try to force an early start to negotiations.

But the strategy backfired when 27 of the 68 umpires either refused to resign or withdrew their resignations. Baseball then hired 25 new umpires from the minors and accepted 22 resignations, effective Sept. 2.

"These hirings ... were devoid of any legitimate business justification," Phillips said in an affidavit filed with the suit. "These July 22 hirings were designed to punish the union and undermine its support."

Umpires now claim they never intended to quit and the resignations were merely symbolic. They also claimed AL ump Drew Coble, one of the 22, never actually resigned.

Joyner was appointed to the federal bench by President Bush in November 1991. A resident of West Chester, Pa., he had been a judge on the Chester County Court of Common Pleas since 1987 before joining the District Court.