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Labor Peace On The Horizon?

10th February 2006

Labor Peace?

In The Hardball Times 2006 Baseball Annual, I wrote an article entitled, Crystal Ball: The 2006 CBA and the Battles Within It. In the article I outlined the conflicts and key points of the last round of collective bargaining, went over what has happened with baseball as a business since the agreement in 2002, and with that, tried to see what might occur on or before Dec. 19th of this year when the contract expires. What most everyone will want to know is, “Will there be a work stoppage? Will there be a strike or a lockout?”

I suggest buying the book for the article, as I go into detail on why, but here’s how I end the article:

So will there be a strike or a lockout? Will the owners, flush with knowledge that for the first time since the players association gained its power they have a slight edge, push for more than the players association is willing except? Will the MLBPA dig in its heels when the time arrives by saying that already it negotiated once—or possibly twice—outside of the collective bargaining window? Or will cooler heads on both sides of the table prevail and realize that everyone—players and owners—has a far better chance of becoming wealthy if baseball avoids a work stoppage? Look for the latter, happily. When the game is left alone to its own devices and work stoppages do not become commonplace, the game is almost always better for it.

There seems to be, at least early on, indications that what I address may actually come to fruition.

Donald Fehr was interviewed by Josh Dubow of the AP (Fehr sees reason for optimism in baseball’s labor talks), and Fehr seems to be mirroring Selig as of late:

“What I can say is that the overall atmosphere of the sport is such that there are a lot of reasons that people on the outside should be optimistic about our chances of reaching an agreement,” Fehr, the head of the baseball players’ union, said Thursday at a luncheon hosted by Fox Sports Bay Area.

Fehr pointed to record attendance, the competitive balance shown by six franchises winning the last six World Series, and revenues that he said have risen from just over $2 billion in 1997 to nearly $4.7 billion in 2005.

“What that tells us is that the people who watch and appreciate major league baseball think we are doing something right,” he said. “A lot of the complaints about teams not making any money in baseball seem to be diminishing.”

Fehr said he did not believe contentious issues such as a salary cap or contraction would be major issues this year, and the two sides have already agreed to a drug-testing deal.

This contrasts considerably from the days leading up to the 2002 agreement when Contraction was still a key topic, as was the Luxury Tax.

Will negotiations start anytime soon? No, according to the report by Barry Bloom on MLB.com:

“There’s a long time between now and December,” said Don Fehr. “Let’s hope we don’t use all of it.”Fehr said that he wants to take his annual tour of the 30 camps during Spring Training and discuss with players the hot-button issues before the union commits to a formal timetable of meetings. Those Spring Training gatherings will be hectic this year, sandwiched around the World Baseball Classic, which is scheduled from March 3-20 in the U.S., Japan and Puerto Rico. Fehr said that he also intended to attend all three rounds.

“Give me six weeks, and I’ll have a better idea when the bargaining will get started,” he said.

As for revenue sharing, which I cover in The Hardball Times article, as well. Fehr mentions, although not by name, the likes of Carl Pohlad and how some clubs are pulling in more money via revenue sharing than they use for payroll.

“What do people do with revenue-sharing receipts?” asked Fehr. “There are some teams in baseball that receive more from the central fund and revenue-sharing than what their payroll is. And that’s before they sell a ticket or a hot dog or a beer or a parking place. There’s a provision in the agreement which says that revenue-sharing funds are to be used to improve the team’s performance on the field. And so we’ll have to be taking a hard look at that and all of these issues.”

Let’s give peace a chance. OK, Don and Bud?

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