FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Eulogy for Richie Phillips

by DAVID MACARAY

Richard Gregory (“Richie”) Phillips, former general counsel and executive director of the MLUA (Major League Umpires Association) from 1978 to 1999, died May 31, 2013. He was 72. To describe Phillips as a “hard-nosed negotiator” doesn’t really do him justice. His extremely confrontational style and relentless determination (a combination of Bobby Knight, Jimmy Hoffa and Marvin Miller) were legendary.

Richie Phillips will be remembered for two things, one good, one horrendously bad.

(1) During his 22 years as executive director, major league umpires went from a group of underappreciated and undercompensated “adjuncts,” to a highly organized and universally envied cadre of sports professionals. With Phillips at the helm, the umpires’ salaries quadrupled.

(2) One of Phillips’ tactical moves backfired so badly, it resulted in the ruination of the very union he helped transform.

In 1999, Phillips tried running an astoundingly brazen play on major league baseball. Knowing it was illegal to use a strike as a negotiating tool (there was a contract in place with an unequivocal “no strike” provision), he got the umpires to agree to resign from their jobs en masse, convincing them that the League would be unable to replace them on short notice, and would balk at having to cough up $15 million in severance pay.

It was an audacious and nutty move. Unfortunately, management called his bluff. The League responded to the mass resignations by instantly hiring minor league umps to replace the major leaguers. Predictably, many of the umpires who, in the heat of battle, had signed letters of resignation now regretted their decision. Some even claimed to have signed them as a “symbolic gesture,” after being assured they would never be delivered.

Accordingly, these umpires contacted the League office and formally requested that their resignations be withdrawn. The League refused. These umpires were told that, even if their letters had been submitted impulsively or on the basis of inaccurate information, a resignation was a resignation. Sorry, boys, but you no longer have a job.

One can imagine the fallout. All hell broke loose. A group of umpires, led by Joe Brinkman and John Hirschbeck, began an NLRB decertification drive that resulted in Phillips being fired, and the formation of another union (the World Umpires Association) to replace the MLUA. While many of the umps were eventually rehired, 22 of them (those viewed as trouble-makers or misfits) never got their jobs back. Their careers were over.

You occasionally hear Richie Phillips’ name linked to that of Robert Poli, the hapless president of the air-traffic controllers union (PATCO), whom President Reagan summarily fired in 1981. While that comparison may seem appropriate (because both guys managed to get their rank-the-file members fired), it is not. The comparison is not only inappropriate, it’s ridiculous.

Phillips was a seasoned pro with an impressive list of accomplishments to his credit, and Poli was an untested rookie, in office for barely a year, with nothing more to brag about than having won a union election. And while Phillips’ resignation stunt was, without question, a monumental blunder, what Poli did by taking federal workers out on an illegal strike (in clear violation of their contract) was immeasurably worse.

Robert Poli not only committed institutional suicide by handing Ronald Reagan on a silver platter the ironclad legal grounds for destroying a labor union, he managed to awaken and refocus America’s dormant anti-union sentiment, something that organized labor is still paying for, thirty years later.

So rest in peace, Richie. Even though you screwed everything up in the end, you did it with the best of intentions and with your inimitable style and flair. Disgraced hero or not, the American labor movement could use a hundred more leaders just like you.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” 2nd edition), was a former union rep.  Dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail