MLB the only league with labor peace
Amid the hoopla of the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday came a sobering bargaining session between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. The meeting was part of an ongoing effort to avoid a lockout that hangs over the NFL; the league's current working agreement is set to expire March 4.
The NBA All-Star Game later this month will be tainted by a lack of conversation — much less progress — between the NBA and the NBA Players Association on a Basic Agreement that expires June 30. This has created speculation of a looming lockout, like the one that reduced the 1998-99 regular season to 50 games.
While NHL players did opt to extend their Basic Agreement an additional year, through next season, there are concerns of a major showdown in the next negotiation in light of the hiring of the NHLPA’s new executive director, Donald Fehr, the longtime head of the MLB Players Association.
And then there is baseball.
Baseball’s Basic Agreement expires Dec. 11, but there has yet to be a word of concern about a possible work stoppage.
Who’d have thunk it.
A sport that for a quarter of a century was scarred by eight work stoppages is headed into its second decade of labor peace.
Undoubtedly the players and owners in baseball learned a lesson the hard way in their last labor war, which forced the cancellation of the World Series, an event that had withstood both World War I and World War II, and had been played for 89 consecutive years.
More than that, however, stability in the labor world has come with stability in the labor negotiations — Michael Weiner for the players and Rob Manfred for the owners.
This isn’t like the Marvin Miller days with the MLBPA or even the early years of Fehr’s leadership when ownership would bring in another chief negotiator for every negotiation, and the contract talks would get bogged down in posturing while the owners' negotiator du jour would try to prove he was a tough guy.
Weiner — who succeeded Fehr as head of the MLBPA — and Manfred — baseball’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources — aren’t best friends. But from a labor standpoint, they have an important ingredient in negotiations: a history with each other at the bargaining table. Both men grew into their current roles, sitting at the bargaining table initially as aides.
They grew into their role as the chief negotiators, and they have been through enough bargaining wars to have an understanding of each other’s approaches. They don’t have to push to see how much they can get away with or to find out if the other side is serious.
Also, don’t overlook the role that Bud Selig as commissioner has played in baseball’s labor peace.
Selig, the longtime owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, has eliminated the façade that his predecessors tried to create — that the commissioner was looking out for the best interest of both sides. Picked and paid by the owners, Selig’s predecessors never could earn the trust of the players and, as a result, they became impediments to settlements when they attempted to insert themselves as neutral negotiators.
Never was it more evident than in 1990, when then-commissioner Fay Vincent bounced between the owners and the players, trying to be a best friend to both sides.
Given the peace of recent years and the ability of the two sides to finally address critical issues, including drug testing, the amateur draft has become the most public issue faced by baseball. And, truth be told, the players share concerns over the same issues as owners — the growing signing bonuses given amateurs.
Owners don’t like the gamble of multimillion-dollar guarantees on players with no professional track record. And big league players know that the high price of unproven amateurs comes at the expense of payroll that could be spent on established players, who are the members of the MLBPA. A slotting system for draft bonuses and an expansion of the draft to limit the free agency of foreign players are endorsed by both sides — although each has its own way of approaching the subject.
Meanwhile, the NFL, still haunted by the 1987 strike that led to replacement players, has a major financial challenge. The owners, who currently take the first $1 billion off the top before giving the players 59 percent of the game’s revenue, want to increase the initial take to $2 billion. They also want to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games, which the players oppose because of the physical toll created by two additional games.
In the NBA, the players currently receive 57 percent of the revenue, and the union has indicated it is willing to lower the amount, but owners are looking at a 40 percent reduction that the players find excessive.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
Only 13 potential arbitration cases remain, led by outfielder Josh Hamilton. He is seeking $12 million, while the Rangers have offered him $8.7 million. That gap marks the biggest difference between a player’s request and his team’s offer.
Baltimore and Milwaukee each has two remaining potential cases.
Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks is seeking $7.2 million and has been offered $4.85 million, and right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum is seeking $5 million, $2 million more than the Brewers have offered.
Orioles outfielder Luke Scott is seeking $6.85 million and has been offered $5.7 million, and right-handed pitcher Jeremy Guthrie asked for $6.5 million, $1.5 million more than the Orioles offered.
Other pending arbitrations are outfielder Jose Bautista of Toronto (seeking $10.5 million, offered $7.6 million); right-handed pitcher Jered Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels ($8.8 million vs. $7.37 million); outfielder Hunter Pence of Houston ($6.9 million vs. $5.15 million): second baseman Kelly Johnson of Arizona ($6.5 million vs. $4.7 million); outfielder Delmon Young of Minnesota ($6.25 million vs. $4.65 million); first baseman James Loney of the Los Angeles Dodgers ($5.25 million vs. $4.7 million), right-handed pitcher Carlos Marmol of the Chicago Cubs ($5.65 million vs. $4.1 million), and right-handed pitcher Russ Ohlendorf of Pittsburgh ($2.02 million vs. $1.4 million).