MLB Heads For First Work Stoppage Since 1995 As Collective Agreement Expires


IRVING, Texas – Major League Baseball plunged into its first work stoppage in a quarter of a century when the sport’s collective agreement expired Wednesday night and owners immediately locked players out, threatening the spring training and opening day.

The strategy, the leadership’s equivalent of a strike under federal labor law, ended the social peace of sport after 9,740 days over 26 and a half years.

The teams decided to force the long-awaited showdown during an offseason rather than risk the players pulling out over the summer, as they did in 1994. The players and owners had successfully struck four back-to-back deals without stopping of work, but they accelerated towards a confrontation. for over two years.

“We believe an offseason lockdown is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. “We hope the lockout will restart negotiations and bring us to a deal that will get the season started on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive.

Talks that began last spring ended on Wednesday after a brief, few-minute session with distantly apart parties on dozens of key economic issues. Management negotiators left the union hotel about nine hours before the deal ended at 11:59 p.m. EST, and the players said the MLB made no new central economic proposals this week.

The 30 controlling MLB owners held a brief digital meeting to reaffirm their lockdown decision, and the MLB announced its fourth lockdown – accompanied by five strikes – in an emailed letter to the Major League Baseball Players Association.

“This drastic and unnecessary step will not affect the players’ determination to strike a fair deal,” union leader Tony Clark said in a statement. “We remain committed to negotiating a new collective agreement that strengthens competition, improves the product for our fans, and advances the rights and benefits of our members.”

That shutdown began 30 days after Atlanta’s World Series victory ended a full season after a shortened 2020 pandemic played out in empty stadiums.

The immediate impacts of the lockdown have been an MLB memo to clubs freezing signings, the cancellation of next week’s winter annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., And the banning of players from training facilities. teams and weight rooms while possibly cooling 2022 ticket sales.

The union demanded changes amid anger over falling average wages, with middle-class players chased by teams concentrating payrolls on the rich and veterans left behind in favor of lower-paid youth, especially among the clubs that demolish their lists to rebuild themselves.

“As players we see major issues there,” New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said of the 2016 deal. “First and foremost, we see a competition issue. and the way teams behave because of some rules there, and adjustments need to be made because of that in order to make the competition stand out. “

There are 11 weeks left until pitchers and receivers show up for spring training on Feb. 16, leaving about 70 days to strike a deal to allow an on-time start. The opening day is set for March 31 and a minimum of three weeks of organized training has been required in the past.

Management, anxious to preserve the wage restraints acquired over the past decades, rejected the union’s demands for what the teams saw as significant changes in the economic structure of the sport, including the reduction in the length of service required by the team. arbitration of free agencies and wages.

“We proposed to establish a minimum payroll for all clubs to meet for the first time in baseball history; allow the majority of players to reach free agency earlier through an age-based system that would eliminate any claims of service time manipulation; and to increase the remuneration of all young players, ”Manfred wrote. “When the negotiations lacked momentum, we tried to create some by offering to accept the Universal Designated Hitter, to create a new draft system using a lottery similar to other leagues.”

Many clubs have rushed to add players ahead of a lockout and an expected sign-on freeze, pledging more than $ 1.9 billion in new contracts, including a one-day record of more than 1, $ 4 billion Wednesday.

“I felt like at least some groups of autonomous agents were moving faster in recent days,” said Pittsburgh general manager Ben Cherington.

Two of the eight members of the union’s executive subcommittee signed big contracts: Texas infielder Marcus Semien ($ 175 million) and Scherzer ($ 130 million).

“It’s actually pretty fun,” Scherzer said. “I’m a fan of the game, and to see everyone signing right now, to see teams competing in such a timely fashion, it’s refreshing as we’ve seen freezes over the last couple of seasons.”

No player has been active since the 232-day strike that cut short the 1994 season, led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years and kicked off the 1995 season late. This judgment only ended when a federal judge – future Supreme Court judge Sonia Sotomayor – issued an injunction forcing the owners to restore the labor rules of the expired employment contract.

The average salary rose from $ 1.17 million before the strike to $ 1.11 million, but then resumed its seemingly inexorable ascent. It peaked at just under $ 4.1 million in 2017, the first season of the last CBA, but will likely drop to around $ 3.7 million when this year’s final numbers are calculated.

This money is heavily concentrated at the top of the salary structure. Of an estimated 1,955 players who signed major league contracts at some point before the last month of the regular season, 112 had earned $ 10 million or more this year as of August 31, of which 40 have earned at least $ 20 million. dollars, including proportional shares of signing bonuses. .

There were 1,397 winners under $ 1 million, including 1,271 at $ 600,000 or less and 332 under $ 100,000, a group of young players who commute between minors.

A union statement asserted that the lockout “was specifically calculated to pressure players to forgo their rights and benefits, and abandon good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not only the players, but the community. game and the industry as a whole. … We have been here before and the players have seized the opportunity time and time again, guided by a solidarity that has been forged over generations.

The union withheld the license money, as it usually does in negotiation; cash, US Treasury securities and investments totaled $ 178.5 million as of December 31, according to a financial disclosure form filed with the US Department of Labor.

Some players’ agents have speculated that management’s lines of credit may already be under pressure following the income deprivation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but club finances are more publicly opaque than those union, making it difficult to determine a comparative financial strength to withstand long-drawn-out work. stop.

Manfred succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner in 2015 after a quarter of a century as an MLB labor negotiator. He has been exceptionally publicly critical of the union’s position.

“They have never collectively abandoned the most extreme set of proposals in their history,” he said, “including major cuts to the revenue sharing system, a weakening of the balance tax competitive and a shorter period of time that players play for their teams All of these changes would make our game less competitive.

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