ASHBURN, Va. -- The rhetoric and legal warfare in the Washington Redskins dues battle escalated yesterday, less than hours before the team is scheduled to play its final game of the season tomorrow against the Minnesota Vikings.
As both sides prepared for a hearing in a Virginia court today, wide receiver Art Monk said the majority of the Redskins won't pay their union dues, even if they lose their legal fight on the issue.
Monk added that 35 Redskins are willing to be suspended for the Vikings game rather than pay $5,000 annual dues to the NFL Players Association.
An NFL official quickly responded that league will find legal remedies to get the game played, even if the NFL has to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The official, who didn't want to be identified, said: "The union is threatening to destroy the competitive integrity of the final weekend of the season. It could affect other teams because of the playoff ramifications."
Although the game is meaningless to the 4-11 Redskins, a Minnesota victory would give the Vikings the final NFC playoff spot and knock the Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints out of the playoff picture.
If 35 players were suspended, the Redskins would have about another 20 on the roster to play the Vikings.
Although defensive lineman Jason Buck, who has paid his dues, predicted the majority of the players eventually would pay to avoid suspension, the comments by Monk, a team leader who rarely gives interviews, indicated otherwise.
"You're always going to have some guys who are going to look out for themselves, but we're a unified team," Monk said.
At a meeting last week, Monk said the players "pretty much weeded out everybody [who decided to pay]. The whole purpose of the meeting was whoever was going to pay make it known right now so we know who's in it and who's not."
There were 41 players who originally refused to pay. Six of them have paid since the NFLPA first threatened last week to have them suspended. Under the union's collective bargaining agreement with the league, the NFL must suspend players who don't pay the dues.
The Redskins avoided being suspended against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday by arguing they don't have to pay union dues because the team is located in Virginia, the site of their training complex. Virginia is a right-to-work state, meaning that union membership can't be a condition of employment.
That prompted the NFLPA to file for an expedited grievance hearing before arbitrator Herbert Fishgold, which was held Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, on behalf of tight end Terry Orr, filed for an injunction in circuit court of Loudon County, Va., asking the court rule that the team is located in Virginia and that right-to-work laws apply. The NFLPA first tried to get the matter shifted to federal court,but a judge sent it back to the state court in Virginia, and a hearing will be held today.
The union will present a finding of fact by Fishgold that District of Columbia laws apply. Fishgold delayed a final ruling on whether the players should be suspended.
The union also will argue that this isn't a court matter, because it is covered by the collective bargaining agreement and should be decided by an arbitrator.
Although the D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled in workmen's compensation cases that the team is located in the District because it plays its games there, a staff lawyer for the defense fund, Glenn Taubman, said the important thing is that the team spends most of its time training in Virginia.
Monk stressed that the Redskins' refusal to pay their dues is not a money issue -- Monk will lose $61,111 if he is suspended -- but a sign the players are unhappy with the union. Among other things, they don't like the salary cap, which will force the Redskins to reduce spending.
They also don't like being prohibited from signing trading-card deals with NFL Properties, which were lucrative for many top players, although Monk didn't sign one.
"It has nothing to do with the money," Monk said. "It's just something that we believe. The whole league is actually complaining. It's not just our team. It's just the whole issue of how they've handled the whole thing the past five years. Someone at some point has to make a stand against them and start forcing some changes. That's the only way changes are going to be made.
"Everybody doing a lot of talking isn't going to solve anything. Someone is going to actually start making some things happen. This is just the beginning of it."
Monk wouldn't specify what changes he wanted made.
The Vikings, who are scheduled to fly to Washington today, seem convinced the game will be played.
Coach Dennis Green said: "Regardless of what goes on, the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings will play."
Wide receiver Cris Carter said: "I'm pretty sure everything will be settled. I don't think the NFL and CBS can afford to have a game canceled."
Redskins coach Richie Petitbon agreed and said the team had a plan, which he wouldn't elaborate on.