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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

MLB tells union games will be lost without a deal soon

Tony Clark, left, the executive director of the players’ union, arriving for Wednesday’s talks with Bruce Meyer, the union’s chief negotiator.

By James Wagner

With the scheduled start of the 2022 regular season approaching and little progress made toward a new collective bargaining agreement despite face-to-face negotiations this week, Major League Baseball reiterated its position — and its threat — to the players’ union Wednesday.

MLB told the union during talks in Jupiter, Florida that it was serious about its stated deadline of striking a labor deal by Feb. 28, that it would begin canceling games if it was not met, and that it would not pay players for those missed games, said a league spokesperson who spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be named. Missed games would not be rescheduled, he said.

A union official, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the negotiations, confirmed that MLB relayed this ultimatum during talks Wednesday.

The 162-game regular season is set to begin March 31. There is no requirement that games be canceled after Monday; that is simply MLB’s preferred date to reach a deal in time to play a full season. The league doubled down on that position Wednesday — but with firmer words.

Players, though, have previously issued their own threat during these labor negotiations. They had told MLB negotiators that they were reluctant to grant club owners an expanded playoff — worth an estimated $100 million annually — if games and money were taken from them, the official said.

Earlier this month, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said losing regular-season games would be “disastrous” for the industry. He also suggested that a minimum spring training length of four weeks — two weeks shorter than normal — made sense to avoid a spike in injuries like the one before the pandemic-shortened, 60-game 2020 regular season. Although Manfred did not publicly offer a specific deadline or threat then, MLB’s view of the calendar was implied.

During a negotiating session in New York on Feb. 12, MLB presented its deadline to the union. The league reasoned that, in order to fit in four weeks of camp and have players and staff in place in Arizona and Florida to begin spring training by March 3, a new accord should be agreed upon by Monday.

The union, though, didn’t agree that Feb. 28 should be a firm deadline. In 1990, for example, the 32-day lockout cut spring training in half, but the full schedule of regular-season games was played, beginning a week later than usual.

Believing the sides have had a year to reach a new agreement and that deadlines are deadlines, the MLB spokesperson said Wednesday that the sides still had five days to figure out a new labor pact.

Spring training, which was supposed to begin last week, hasn’t started yet because MLB locked out the players Dec. 2 — the day after the previous five-year CBA expired — and a new labor deal has not materialized. Late last week, MLB announced that the start of spring training games, originally slated for Feb. 26, would be postponed “until no earlier” than March 5.

The last work stoppage in MLB to cost the league regular-season games was the 1994-95 player strike, which resulted in the loss of more than 900 games and the 1994 World Series.

Overall, the union has been seeking a series of improvements to the economic structure of the sport, with a goal of helping younger players who are on less lucrative contracts, improving competition among teams, curbing service time manipulation and injecting more spending. The league, though, believes that players have a fair system without a hard salary cap and sees it as a matter of wealth distribution — that star players are disproportionately commanding more than others.

Sensing increased urgency, the sides gathered at Roger Dean Stadium this week, beginning Monday — and talks could perhaps last all week should they prove productive. Not only did the negotiating teams of both sides come to the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins, but so did two club owners and at least 10 players who hold leadership positions in the union.

So far, though, each side has been frustrated with the other because of moves they have viewed as only modest concessions — or even backward. Several big matters, such as the luxury tax or revenue-sharing systems, remain unresolved.

On Wednesday, MLB’s latest offer was in one area: a $10,000 increase in the proposed league minimum salary, starting with $640,000, and rising by $10,000 each year. The union has sought a minimum salary of $775,000, which would climb $30,000 each season. The minimum salary in 2021 was $570,500.

Despite the disagreements between the sides, they agreed to meet again on Thursday.

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