J. D. Thorne, speaker and author of the new book Baseball’s Winning Ways  (Available on Amazon Books).

“Labor Relations in Baseball”

The Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement with its Players’ Union expired December 1, 2021. This happened despite MLB Commissioner Manfred’s declaration in November that his “#1 Priority” was reaching Agreement with the union before it expired. Manfred had declared that management would meet every hour of every day to achieve that result.  Instead, once December 1 had come and gone, baseball management “locked out” the players, prohibiting them from playing. In theory, this is the opposite of an “economic strike” where the players refuse to work under the terms and conditions being offered by management. Rather in a lockout like this, management does not allow any employee to work and mandates no work because the union representing the players will not accept its latest contract offer.  Because management has met and conferred with the union representatives at reasonable times and reasonable places in good faith to reach agreement prior to declaring a lock-out, it is a totally legal move in collective bargaining negotiations designed to apply “economic pressure” on the strikers.  Sometimes management waits for the union to strike, but here it acted instead.

Of course, since the season had ended before this legal maneuver took place, and there is nothing scheduled until the pitchers and catchers are scheduled in mid-February 2022, what is the impact of this pressure?  To borrow a basketball term:  Is this a situation of “No blood–no foul?” There is nothing going on in MLB baseball anyway at this time so neither party seems to mind this state of affairs in limbo. No new formal negotiations have taken place in over a month that I have heard about.

Both parties must be quietly using this time to inform everyone that needs to know about the status of things, of outstanding issues, and to plan for the future options inherent in the coming renewal of negotiations at some point.  As far as reaching an Agreement prior the end of the contract, I guess the time was not ripe for a December 1 settlement.

What to do?  One applicable bromide in negotiations states that “management acts and labor unions react.”  I’d say the “ball is in Commissioner Manfred’s hands” and it is still his “serve” despite the fact that the union did not accept his last offer and walked away from the negotiating table apparently far apart from management’s offer.

I think of applying some other ancient bromides from the field of labor relations.  Before most negotiations get to the closing phase, normally it helps if there is some sense of urgency to getting it done.  Remember every negotiator knows if one agrees to the other side’s proposals too easily or quickly, after it’s done their performance will be criticized.  They may be accused of “leaving money on the table”—by not negotiating hard enough.  Sometimes it helps to push through an agreement with a certain “web of tension” in the environment surrounding the talks.

In the strike year of 1993 Bud Selig was Acting Commissioner of Baseball.  He allowed the union to strike despite costing baseball the World Series that year, angering the fan base.  Even though he thought he had prepared by buying strike insurance, the union accused management of negotiating in bad faith.  The U. S. Government was Democratic and favored labor unions with its appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.  By golly, the NLRB agreed with the union.  To enforce its ruling against Major League Baseball, it received an injunction in Federal Court in New York before future Democratic Appointee to the U. S. Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor.  She ruled the Labor Board’s Complaint was likely to prevail at trial as part of granting the Temporary Injunction request.  It was a strong indication that the charge would stick.  This ruling had the effect of changing the strike from an “economic strike” to an “unfair labor practice” strike.  Strike losses were then not covered by the strike insurance.  This event created the “sense of urgency” such that Major League Baseball quickly capitulated to the union and withdrew its demands to which the union objected.

The unions again have the Democratic Party in the White House. I am not surprised that the union negotiators do not feel compelled to agree with management (even if there is logic in their proposals) until there is more urgency on management to come to agreement.  When will that come?  Before Spring Training?  Before the season?  Before the All-Star Game?

Sporting Chance Press includes books on sports including baseball. Our baseball books:

The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy’s Principles for Baseball (and Life)  also by J. D. Thorne

Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball’s Fred Merkle

Baseball’s Winning Ways