Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How The MLBPA Protects Players

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is a type of negotiation used by employees to work with their employers. During a collective bargaining period, workers' representatives approach the employer and attempt to negotiate a contract which both sides can agree with. Typical issues covered in a labor contract are hours, wages, benefits, working conditions, and the rules of the workplace.

Collusion: An agreement between two or more persons, sometimes illegal and therefore secretive, to limit open competition by deceiving, misleading, or defrauding others of their legal rights, or to obtain an objective forbidden by law typically by defrauding or gaining an unfair advantage.

Baseball Collusion:  Refers to owners working together to avoid competitive bidding for player services or players jointly negotiating with team owners. 

Now that we've had a brief vocabulary, lets see how the history of the Major League Baseball Players' Association(MLBPA) has affected Major League Baseball.  Before the MLBPA, there were four attempts by players to create unions in baseball that really didn't get much done: The Brotherhood Of Professional Baseball Players(1885), Players' Protective Association(1900), Fraternity of Professional Baseball Players of America(1912), and National Baseball Players Association of the United States(1922).  MLBPA was created in 1953.

In 1966, MLBPA hired Marvin Miller who worked for the United Steel Workers Of America to be the Executive Director.  In 1968, he negotiated MLB's first ever collective bargaining agreement(CBA) with the team owners.  It raised the minimum MLB player salary from $6,000 to $10,000.  The CBA in 1972 added arbitration to allow disputes between players and team management to be resolved.  Also in 1972, MLB saw it's first player strike, over the owners' refusal to increase player pension funds to match cost of living increases.

Over the first 10 years of Marvin Miller's run as Executive Director, MLBPA became one of the strongest unions in the nation.  The Seitz decision was a ruling by arbitrator Peter Seitz on December 23, 1975 which declared that Major League Baseball players became free agents upon playing one year for their team without a contract, effectively nullifying baseball's reserve clause.  Reserve clause:  An agreement allowing teams to renew a contract for a period of one year following the end of a signed contract.  This was used to keep players on a team for life, as well as keep salaries low by eliminating market competition.

In 1968, the original CBA stated: "Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs."  This was an anti-collusion clause.  In the 1980s, MLB owners violated this at least three times.  They are known as Collusion I, Collusion II and Collusion III.

Collusion I involved free agents after the 1985 season.  Only four of thirty-five free agents changed teams, and some star players did not even receive offers from other teams such as Kirk Gibson.  These players normally would have garnered much interest in the FA market.  In one case, Carlton Fisk was offered a contract by George Steinbrenner, who withdrew his offer after a call from Jerry Reinsdorf.

The MLBPA thought something was up and filed a collusion grievance in February of 1986.  They won this decision after the arbitrator decided that the owners had violated the basic agreement of the CBA.  After the 1986 season, the MLBPA filed a second collusion grievance, alleging more collusion among owners to not sign free agents.  For the first time in 18 years, free agent salaries had dropped, in contrast to MLB stating revenue was up 15%.  MLBPA won this second grievance case.  In 1987, MLBPA filed a third collusion grievance, which they claimed was due to owners creating an "information bank" to discuss offers they had made to players.  MLBPA won this grievance case as well.

When the three separate collusion cases damages were announced, they resulted in the owners paying out $280 million to the union in 1990, which divided out fairly the money among all of the free agent players who had been affected.  The owners had used this collusion in the mid-80's to attempt to keep player salaries from reaching millions of dollars.  MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent stated of this situation: "The single biggest reality you guys have to face up to is collusion. You stole $280 million from the players, and the players are unified to a man around that issue, because you got caught and many of you are still involved."

In 1994, MLBPA went on strike after they felt an assault by owners on their rights was taking fold.  Their biggest complaint during the strike was the owners willingness to enforce a salary cap.  Prior to 1994, the owners had voted to take away several powers of the Commissioner in order to "preserve the best interests of baseball."  The owners proposal stated that they would raise average salary from $1.6 million to $2.1 million over 7 years.  In June of 1994, the owners had decided to withhold money owed to player pension funds as a negotiating tactic.  This failed to force the players' hand, and was another leading cause of the strike.

On August 12th, 1994, the players struck and did not play for the rest of the season.  No CBA could ever be agreed upon, and MLB lost all of it's post season for the first time in history.  There were many ramifications for players and teams as far as seasonal results were going.  The Montreal Expos were in first place and having their best season in team history.  One wacky result of the strike involved Dave Winfield.  He was traded from the Twins to the Indians for a player to be named later.  Since there was a strike, no player could be named.  The two teams went out to dinner and the Indians picked up the tab, which means Dave Winfield was traded for a nice dinner.

In December, the MLBPA and MLB owners had attempted to have talks for a new CBA, but they quickly broke down.  President Clinton got involved in January, telling the owners and players they had to begin negotiating again by February 6th.  This deadline came and went with no new CBA.  A deal proposed during these talks had included an owner concession, revoking salary cap.  The owners decided to move forward with their teams without the striking players.  Replacement players were signed to play in games.  Some of them had been former MLB players who were not under contract in 1994.  One such player was Oil Can Boyd.

On March 29th, 1995, the players and owners agreed to use the expired CBA rules for the 1995 season until a new CBA could be put in place.  The players agreed to play a 144 game season beginning on April 25th.  Fans, who were furious over the strike and felt the players had been greedy, showed their frustration when baseball returned.

At New York's Shea Stadium, three people wearing shirts that read "Greed" jumped on the field, ran up to players and threw $1 bills at them.  In Pittsburgh on Opening Day, fans threw things onto the field and caused a 17 minute delay.  After being told that their actions would result in a forfeited game, they conceded from throwing things onto the field, but kept booing throughout the game.

At Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, Donald Fehr, President of the MLBPA, was in attendance.  Fans brought signs to tell him how they felt.  One read "$HAME ON YOU!"(yes with the dollar sign S), another fan yelled repeatedly at him "You ruined the game!"  At Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, a person piloted a plane above the stadium with a banner reading "Owners & Players: To Hell With You All!!"  Fans were soured on the process of arguing over money when players and owners alike had been making far more money than fans could even imagine.

Another ramification of the strike, is the toll it took on the Montreal Expos.  Not only did they lose their best start to a season in team history, they lost their fan base and much needed revenue.  They were forced to lower team payroll to make up for losses occurring from the strike.  The Expos never recovered.  It took MLB at least three years to start seeing a recovery in attendance and revenue.  The 1998 season and it's summer of home runs brought many fans back to the game.  This leads to another blemish on the MLBPA's record.

We now know that many players hitting all of these home runs were using steroids.  MLB waited a while to begin working on any kind of meaningful drug testing changes and penalties for players who used illegal or banned substances.  When MLB finally did decide to install stricter drug testing, MLBPA fought against it.  They claimed that it violated players' privacy.  After a lot of negative publicity, and the BALCO scandal coming to light, the MLBPA changed their position to pro-testing programs.  In 2005, after pressure from Congress, MLBPA agreed to a stronger drug testing program as well as 50 & 100 game suspensions for the first two positive tests, and lifetime banishment for a third positive test.

As you can see, the union has helped in many aspects of baseball including guaranteed salary increases, better pension plans and standing up to the owners for collusion against players.  Their work to get a better free agency market that gives players more control over their future and salaries has definitely made baseball better.  However, there are also times when the union has hurt baseball, including the strike in 1994.  Their anti-drug testing stance in the early 2000's was also a dark moment with fans.  The union, however, is necessary because it protects the players from the shady business practices that would accompany any entity making millions of dollars a year.

Another aspect of what the union has done with salaries over the years, is that they have installed things in such a way that owners have to pay higher prices for top players each season.  The CBA and the MLBPA are being blamed for Albert Pujols' 2011 offseason in which he will be guaranteed to make $30 million a year on his next contract no matter where he signs.  They may not directly have been involved in Albert Pujols feeling he has to be an example of how the top player should be paid, but they certainly indirectly influenced this outcome. 

This is mostly bad for baseball, as it eliminates small market teams from not only signing free agents of A-type status, but it also makes their chances of keeping great players they drafted beyond their initial contracts.  If this were the NBA, any team who could afford the "max contract" price could negotiate with a player.

New MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner has stated that he wishes to have talks on a new CBA before the 2011 season begins.  He states that he has watched as the NFL talks have gotten nasty and the NBA talks have stalled.  He doesn't want this to happen in baseball.  The current CBA ends on December 11th, 2011. 

This season will undoubtedly have two major "what will happen" headlines:  Where Will Pujols Sign?  When Will A New CBA Deal Be Struck?  I for one care a whole lot more about the latter than the former.  The good news is that he is speaking about the matter as if both sides are really on the same page, which could lead to a calm re-upping of a similar CBA with little disagreement on it's terms and conditions.  THAT is what is best for baseball.

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