MLB Picking a Fight MLBPA’s Tony Clark is Ready to Finish

Both the MLBPA and NHLPA are in positions to leverage their power prior to CBA negotiations with preemptive player strikes. But will they?

Good morning. It’s Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, and welcome to “The Labor Beat,” your weekly breakdown of the biggest stories from the world of collective bargaining and labor disputes in sports. Send tips, exclusives, or suggestions to [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter at @grandstcentral and @al_neal_stl.

The MLB Players Association (MLBPA) isn’t Pulling Punches:

For the second consecutive year, free agents remain unsigned while the clock ticks down to Spring Training. And union chief Tony Clark is not one bit pleased.

“All the dead time in the last two free agent markets is a larger threat to our game than any supposed dead time between pitches,” he told the Associated Press.

This, in the history of baseball, is a rare occurrence, and isn’t found in the other three major sports. Is it coincidence then, that this comes during MLB owners’ push towards winning a salary cap? Probably not.

Along with other game changing issues—most recently an MLB proposal to close the 10-day disabled list (DL) loophole by returning to a 15-day DL—MLB and the MLBPA has made it clear that backing down will not an option as they approach the end of the current collective bargaining agreement. The proposal could be used as a bargaining chip by the MLBPA to secure other owner concessions, but who knows how important the DL issue is to the league.

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And as if we didn’t need any more signs that a work stoppage is on the horizon, the MLBPA hired former ESPN baseball writer Jerry Crasnick as the new senior adviser for player, agent and media relations, promoting long-term staffer Chris Dahl to communications director. First step to setting up a successful work action is to take control of the narrative. With that in mind, this move makes a lot of sense.

Here’s my take:

We know a work stoppage is all but inevitable at this point, so let’s cut through the bullshit and get to work organizing a successful strike. With the free-agent marketplace once again chilled, it’s time to show owners some collective action: don’t show up early to spring training, don’t take part in any media events, and sit out until veteran free agents get a fair offer.

With two years to go, my focus (if I was an MLBPA organizer) would be getting to every major league city and in front of every player to start building player solidarity, setting up a contract campaign timeline, strike committee, and contract committee.

While a long labor peace between workers and managements is always praised by human resource experts, in the long run, it does nothing but create complacency among younger union workers who were never part of the original struggle and allows managers to take full advantage of them.

Getting good union wages and benefits is one thing, remembering what it took to get there is another. And we need to focus on reminding all working people about those historic struggles. Hell, it wasn’t politicians who ended this latest government shutdown; it was working people acting together who did. Let’s hope we see that come 2021.

Why can’t We be Friends?

The NHL and NHL Players Association (NHLPA), after announcing the 2020 World Cup of Hockey was canceled, continued their preliminary talks ahead of the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations, and both sides are optimistic they can avoid a work stoppage.

“The thing that stands out to me the most is we’re able to have these discussions with a lack of tension,” said Mathieu Schneider, the NHLPA’s special assistant to the executive director. “When you start bargaining meetings like we did in 2012…[y]ou could cut the tension with a knife in those first couple meetings, and in most meetings. And we’re able to have these discussions now without that tension, without walls being built up, and it’s been very positive so far.”

The CBA goes until the 2021-22 season, with both sides able to notify whether they opt out of the agreement early. Among the issues, two stand out: the ability to play in the Olympics and getting rid of the NHL’s escrow system.

The escrow system takes part of player’s salary and sets it aside in a bank account. That portion is adjusted four times throughout the season, based on the NHL’s projected revenue. At the end of the season, the revenue is calculated, and players get paid, unless the league ends up with less than a 43-percent share. In that case, it takes as much money needed from the player escrow fund to make up the difference.

With league revenue growing to $4.85 billion, and owners getting a better cut of the hockey-related revenue, players and their union will have to push hard against management for concessions. They wouldn’t want to sacrifice their comfy, oversized piece of the pie.

Here’s my take:

NHL players have been locked out by owners three times—going on strike once in 1992. That’s three times too many. While I admire the bilateral support for a peaceful negotiation process, the ugly truth remains: players will need to be prepared with a “plan B” in the event talks breakdown. Instead of getting locked out again, players should take away the owners’ weapons and strike first.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way if management is truly open to making good faith proposals and concessions—but rarely is that ever the case. We’ll just have to wait and see.

That’s all for this week on the Labor Beat. In Solidarity!

Al Neal
Al Neal
Al Neal is an award-winning columnist at Grandstand Central writing on politics, labor relations, and the general rabble-rousing in professional sports. He spent a decade working in the trade union movement with various locals across the country and currently serves as Dir. of Education and Advocacy for the St. Louis Workers’ Education Society.


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