Labor Forecast: Another Win for Players
As Major League Baseball's labor talks grind toward another
midsummer showdown, observers are wondering whether the Major
League Baseball Players' Association will extend its 30-year
winning streak over the owners. It will. The owners have already
blown their best chance to win concessions from the MLPBA.
The owners' negotiating strategy has long been apparent.
They planned to propose sweeping changes, including greater
revenue sharing and a luxury tax, along the lines recommended by
Commissioner Selig's Ribbon Economic Panel, then refuse to
budge from that position. This would ultimately force the players
to choose among three undesirable options: strike, accept the
owners' terms, or allow the owners to declare a bargaining
impasse and impose those terms even without an agreement.
But for this strategy to succeed, the owners had to work
quickly. In all baseball labor disputes, the owners have the edge
during the offseason and spring training, when they can declare a
signing freeze or lock out the players at little or no cost to
themselves. As the season progresses, the players' leverage
increases: a mid- to late-season strike costs the owners their
biggest crowds and threatens the postseason, when they get most
of their TV money.
The collective bargaining agreement expired after the 2001 World
Series. That created an opportunity for the owners. A clever
leader would have opened negotiations before the 2001 season,
complete with public-relations blitz about how, for the fans'
sake, the owners and players needed to reach a new deal before
the current CBA expired. But Bud Selig is not a clever
By starting serious negotiations as early as possible, the
owners would have scored PR points while also putting themselves
in a position to declare an impasse soon after the CBA expired.
That would have allowed them to implement the revenue sharing and
luxury tax proposals contained in their then-current offer -- and
that, in turn, would have fundamentally altered the parties'
bargaining positions. Instead of operating under the terms of the
expired CBA until a new agreement could be signed, the game would
have been played under the owners' rules.
The owners squandered this opportunity. Although last spring
MLB's Paul Beeston met secretly with Donald Fehr on numerous
occasions to discuss a possible labor deal, Commissioner Selig
abruptly pulled the plug on those talks in mid-June. It's
hard to declare an impasse when you're the side that walks
away from the bargaining table.
The owners then wasted the entire offseason battling over
contraction. Selig apparently thought that the threat of losing
50 major league jobs would pressure the MLBPA into making
concessions. Instead contraction angered fans, infuriated
lawmakers and brought nothing from the MLBPA except a grievance
which won't be resolved until midseason.
Moreover, the owners' contraction strategy was so poorly
executed that they handed their opponents the issue needed to
block it. Six weeks before the contraction announcement, a MLB
lawyer told the Twins to exercise their lease option for 2002,
confident that the courts would never force the club to play out
the season in the Metrodome. Oops. The lawyer who advised the
Twins -- Bud Selig's personal attorney -- is now the
owners' chief labor negotiator.
Reeling from the contraction fiasco, the owners agreed not to
lock out the players or impose new terms before the 2002 season
and asked the players for a no-strike pledge. Noting that the
owners' promise did not extend to the 2002-03 season, the
The MLBPA is expected to set a strike date during the All-Star
break. As in 1994, that date will likely be sometime in early
August. But unlike in 1994, the owners don't have the
resources to fight a protracted battle.
Forbes reported two years ago that in the event of a
strike or lockout, many of the owners' bank loans will
immediately come due. As former Commissioner Fay Vincent recently
told the Washington Post, "The day the players go
out, the banks will give baseball one week to make a deal. And
Don [Fehr] knows it. He has all the cards."
Welcome to baseball as usual.
Copyright © 2002 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the June 2002 issue of Boston
Back to Doug's Boston Baseball
to Doug's Business of Baseball menu
roadsidephotos.sabr.org main menu