The Major League Baseball Players Association asked MLB to set a schedule for the 2020 season rather than counter the latest return-to-play proposal by the league, setting up future labor fights as a strike is not possible due to the current contract agreements.
In a statement Saturday night, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark rejected MLB’s latest proposal and said: “Further dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”
Owners have pressed for prorated salaries, pay cuts due to lockdowns and shutdowns reducing the number of fans in the seat, a proposal rejected by players who would be playing for a fraction of their contracted salaries.
A very short season, 50 games, was among the recent offers set forth by owners and the union’s response Saturday may foreshadow the filing of a grievance, which would be heard by arbitrator Mark Irvings, arguing players are owed hundreds of millions of dollars in damages due to a shorter season.
“It unfortunately appears that further dialogue with the league would be futile,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”
MLB responded with a statement accusing the union of not negotiating in good faith and cited the March agreement that called for prorated salaries, but did not obligate teams to play in empty ballparks.
“The MLBPA’s position that players are entitled to virtually all the revenue from a 2020 season played without fans is not fair to the thousands of other baseball employees that clubs and our office are supporting financially during this very difficult 2020 season,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement.
“We will evaluate the union’s refusal to adhere to the terms of the March agreement, and after consulting with ownership, determine the best course to bring baseball back to our fans.”
These contentious negotiations heighten the chance of a spring training lockout after the current collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021.
“Given your continued insistence on hundreds of millions of dollars of additional pay reductions, we assume these negotiations are at an end,” union chief negotiator Bruce Meyer wrote in a letter to Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem on Saturday that was obtained by The Associated Press. “If it is your intention to unilaterally impose a season, we again request that you inform us and our members of how many games you intend to play and when and where players should report. It is unfair to leave players and the fans hanging at this point, and further delay risks compromising health and safety. We demand that you inform us of your plans by close of business on Monday.”
Players and MLB agreed to a deal on March 26 calling for prorated salaries, a deal that included $170 million in salary advances and a guarantee of service time for 2020 even if no games are played.
That deal gave baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred the right to start the season provided there were no travel restrictions and games could be played before fans in regular-season ballparks. It called for “good faith” negotiations to play in empty ballparks or neutral sites.
Players insist they should not have to accept additional cuts.
“The solidarity of the players has never been more concentrated in years,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most high-profile agent, who has three clients on the union’s eight-man executive subcommittee.
MLB made three economic offers, the last Friday, and the union proposed two.
The sides remain far apart on how much players should get of the $4 billion in salaries they originally were set to earn: MLB has offered to guarantee $1.27 billion and increase the total to $1.45 billion if the postseason is completed. Players want $2.25 billion and an 89-game season.
“Players want to play. It’s who we are and what we do,” Clark said. “Since March, the association has made it clear that our No. 1 focus is playing the fullest season possible, as soon as possible, as safely as possible. Players agreed to billions in monetary concessions as a means to that end, and in the face of repeated media leaks and misdirection we made additional proposals to inject new revenues into the industry — proposals that would benefit the owners, players, broadcast partners, and fans alike. It’s now become apparent that these efforts have fallen upon deaf ears.”
“In recent days, owners have decried the supposed unprofitability of owning a baseball team and the Commissioner has repeatedly threatened to schedule a dramatically shortened season unless players agree to hundreds of millions in further concessions,” Clark said. “Our response has been consistent that such concessions are unwarranted, would be fundamentally unfair to players, and that our sport deserves the fullest 2020 season possible. These remain our positions today, particularly in light of new reports regarding MLB’s national television rights — information we requested from the league weeks ago but were never provided.”
Players contend teams’ financial accounts don’t reflect income they gain from regional sports networks, real estate projects surrounding ballpark developments and such below-the-line business such as the sale of equity in BAM Tech to The Walt Disney Co. and the NHL.
The New York Post reported Saturday that MLB and Turner were closing in on an agreement for rights starting in 2022, the season after Turner’s current contract expires for one League Championship Series and a package of Sunday regular-season broadcasts in the season’s second half.
“We have fulfilled any obligation to `discuss’ with you the economic feasibility of playing games without fans,” Meyer wrote.
“Your own self-serving slide presentation showed that the league as a whole will lose significantly less money playing a season than not playing a season, and Rob admitted this in response to a direct question,” Halem wrote. “With respect to other assertions in the presentation, we found it incomplete, unclear and unpersuasive and requested information that would allow us to verify it. Your eventual response was completely inadequate.”
MLB provided summaries of regional sports network agreements last month but not the actual deals.