With the prospect of spring training starting in less than two weeks, looking increasingly bleak, Major League Baseball believed that a stalemate in negotiations with the players’ union over a new employment contract could be broken with an external mediator. So on Thursday, the league asked the federal mediation and conciliation service for its help in what would have been a non-binding and voluntary process intended to offer proposals – not conciliation.
Frustrated with the owners ‘proposal – or lack thereof – and knowing that a previous attempt at mediation was fruitless, the players’ association rejected the offer on Friday. Thereby, the union had short words for the league, which responded with a brief statement.
During the negotiations on a new collective agreement, and especially since MLB owners locked the players out on December 2, the parties have largely refrained from conducting their cases in public, which has been a contrast from previous negotiations.
But the frustrations have continued to rise.
“Two months after the implementation of their lockout, and only two days after committing to the players that a counter-proposal would be made, the owners refused to make a counter, and instead requested mediation,” the players’ association said in a statement. Friday.
The statement continued: “After consulting our management and taking into account a number of factors, we have rejected this request. The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table. Players are ready to negotiate.”
In a response sent via email from a spokesman, MLB said it was its goal to have players on the field and fans in the stands for spring training and the opening day, which is scheduled for March 31.
“With camps scheduled to open in less than two weeks, it’s time to get immediate assistance from the federal mediation and conciliation service to help us work through our disagreements and break the stalemate,” the league said. declaration.
It added: “Clearly, the most productive way forward would be the involvement of an impartial third party to help bridge gaps and facilitate an agreement. It is difficult to understand why a party wishing to enter into an agreement would reject mediation from the federal agency specifically tasked with resolving these disputes, including many successes in professional sports.MLB remains committed to offering solutions at the table and reaching a fair agreement for both parties . “
Little progress has been made since negotiations resumed on 13 January, the first time both sides have put forward a proposal – MLB in this case – on the economic problems since the lockout began on 2 December. (The most recent five-year collective agreement expired on December 1.) In total, there have been only four known major negotiation sessions since the lockout began.
The latest was on Tuesday, when the union personally put forward a proposal that made modest adjustments to its requests for manipulation of service time – how large league-ready players are kept in the minors to maximize the time they are under team control – and the creation of a bonus pool for players who are not yet eligible for payroll arbitration. However, the players maintained their positions on other issues, including in two areas that MLB said they would not negotiate on: changes in revenue sharing between teams and entitlement to pay arbitration.
The meeting on Tuesday was described as heated. The league told the union it would respond to its proposal and the association expected a counter-proposal.
On Thursday, MLB – which believed it had already given players several concessions in cases such as a lottery, a pre-arbitration bonus pool, a scheme to limit service time manipulation and a universally appointed hitter – sought external help from a federal. agency that has assisted in past labor disputes in other professional sports leagues, including the NHL and MLS
However, the players felt different about MLB’s tactics. During the 1994-95 player strike – the last strike in baseball that cost regular season matches (over 900 in total) – a federal mediator stepped in at the urging of President Bill Clinton, but it proved unsuccessful. The union at the time was dissatisfied with the broker’s reasoning and suggestions, while the owners supported them.
(The federal mediator used during the MLB players’ strike in 1981 was successful and later briefly served as union leader.)
Asked by a fan why players refused mediation this time, Yankees replacement Zack Britton, a top union representative, said replied: “The history of mediation in MLB has been completely one-sided. That’s why MLB suggested it. “Instead of trying to delay making suggestions with this PR stunt, MLB should actually try to negotiate.”
He wrote later in another response to a fan: “We did not lock ourselves out. Spring training would take place as usual in a few weeks, if not for the lockout. We are amply capable of training and negotiating a new CBA during the spring.”
Britton’s tweets were part of what felt like a coordinated effort from players on social media last Friday. The union believed it had already made concessions to MLB and the players have been frustrated that their average salary has not kept pace with the team’s revenue.
“To me, it seems that in order to implement a collective agreement, you have to negotiate … players keep waiting.” wrote Whit Merrifield, a star second baseman for the Kansas City Royals.
Max Scherzer, a star pitcher who signed a record deal with the Mets just before the lockout began, explained the players’ position in a series of tweets: “We do not need mediation because what we offer to MLB is fair to both sides,” he said. wrote. “We want a system,” he said went on“where thresholds and penalties do not act as ceilings, allow younger players to realize more of their market value, make service time manipulation a thing of the past, and eliminate refueling as a winning strategy.”
When the offer of mediation was rejected, MLB was expected to weigh its next steps and speak directly with the union. Differences or not, the parties have a legal obligation to negotiate. However, the normal baseball calendar remained in jeopardy.