The march towards December 1, when the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Major League Baseball and the Players Association expires, has already been full of tension between the two sides, with baseball experts predicting an ugly showdown, and possibly the sport’s first work stoppage since the devastating strike of 1994-95.
The Players’ Association fired the last salvo of the ongoing Cold War: a lawsuit filed against the league, in which players seek a reported $ 500 million in compensation.
According to one New York Post report earlier this month, the union claims that MLB acted in bad faith last year when deciding how many games to play for the shortened season 2020. The report listed the amount of $ 500 million equivalent to the salary players would have received if 20 to 25 extra games were played in 2020.
The players and the ownership quarreled over money and salary payments in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic last year, and finally the season started when baseball commissioner Rob Manfred authorized a shortened, 60-game regular season. The two sides could not reach an agreement after several proposals were on the table.
A spokesman for the Players’ Association confirmed that a complaint had been lodged, but did not comment further. Two separate baseball sources confirmed that MLB has filed counterclaims.
Besides further enmity between the two sides, do the union’s complaints have any bones? According to many sources related to baseball, the players appear to be underdogs in this last round, and historically the union and its members have been on the losing side of complaints more often than not. According to several sources, MLB has requested that the union expedite this latest complaint, but it is possible the case may continue until after the end of the 2021 season, further complicating the CBA negotiations.
In any complaint, a representative each from the union and MLB, and a third-party neutral arbitrator – currently Martin Scheinman – make the final decision. Both the MLB and the union can terminate an arbitrator at any time. In 2012, for example, MLB fired arbitrator Shyam Das after Das overthrew Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Brown’s 50-doping suspension. (Braun would eventually earn a suspension of 65 games in 2013 for his ties to the Biogenesis scandal).
“It’s very early in the process,” said a source in today’s job interviews. “The union filed the complaint to create some influence in the negotiations. Whether it turns out to be the case or not, only time will tell. ”
Baseball is probably pushing for a quick solution to the complaint since a liability of half a billion dollars hangs in the balance. There are also the prospects that the league may be in a completely different financial position, coming on 1 December. In an interview earlier this year, the economist said Forbes contributor Andrew Zimbalist said that in addition to the huge losses the 30 MLB teams suffered in 2020 – with no fans at stake – “there will be ongoing losses this year,” despite fans and teams again earning street revenue.
Before the 2021 season began, a baseball management said the work situation would be a “distraction” for the entire year. “The union’s unwillingness to even talk about any of the issues is alarming,” the leader said. But despite the union’s complaint, working history has largely remained in the background as the sport navigates an entire season while the pandemic continues. The unusual amount of no-hitters that were thrown so early in the season (six), and stars like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Shohei Ohtani, attract fans’ attention as opposed to controversial labor issues.
A league source called the league’s complaint a “waste of time”, while another baseball insider said the union has “a high hill to climb” in this latest battle for ownership. In March 2020, the two sides reached agreement on issues such as service time for players and salary in advance on whether any games would be played in a global health crisis. But the March 26 agreement also gave Manfred the authority to implement a schedule regardless of the length he exercised.
While one agent said the complaint is “legitimate” and that more than 60 matches could have been played last year, is this latest strategy from union chief Tony Clark and its members nothing more than a Hail Mary? Even if the arbitrator Scheinman were to rule in the union’s favor, the injuries inflicted could benefit veteran players, especially those at the end of their careers.
For the younger stars, the more complicated labor struggle still awaits.