SBJ/April 1 - 7, 2002/Labor Agents

Baseball union spurns pledge of labor peace

A pledge by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig last week not to lock out players and not to impose a new work agreement during the 2002 baseball season appeared to heighten, not lessen, tensions between the league and the players union.

Fehr

MLB Players Association executive director Donald Fehr responded immediately to the announcement, saying in a statement, "It should not be mistaken for more than it is, a tacit acknowledgment of the clubs' continuing intention to make precisely such changes when they really count, immediately after the postseason."

Fehr added that Selig made the pledge to the fans, not the union, because "he thinks what we do not: That the fans can be more easily fooled, fooled into thinking this pledge is a 'concession' of sorts on his part."

Baseball then fired back in a news release, calling Fehr's reaction hostile.

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president in charge of labor relations, said Fehr "is completely wrong" about his assertion that baseball's pledge was not a concession. For example, Manfred said, baseball could have declared an impasse in late April and imposed a new labor system that could have included a luxury tax and increased revenue sharing.

"The clubs would [have gotten] the huge benefits of revenue sharing in 2002," Manfred said. "We gave up a real opportunity to affect the 2002 economics by entering into this pledge. We gave up several [concessions], and so far we have gotten nothing back from Mr. Fehr."

Union officials were not immediately available to react to Manfred's comments.

Paul Weiler, a Harvard Law School professor who specializes in sports and entertainment law, said the future holds four possibilities for the baseball labor situation: an agreement being reached in the next few months; a strike by the players late in the season; a lockout imposed by owners once the season is over; or a unilateral implementation of a new labor system by the owners after the season.

"I think there is a reasonable possibility there will be a constructive and peaceful settlement," Weiler said.

Fehr told reporters last week, "Players always treat the setting of a strike date as a last resort when everything else fails."

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