07/08/2002 11:04 pm ET
Players do not set strike date
By Barry Bloom / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Members of the Major League Baseball Players Association did not vote to set a strike date in a meeting of the executive board at a Chicago airport hotel Monday.
Instead, the union sent its player representatives out to ask their teammates if they would authorize the board to set a date for such a contingency, said Don Fehr, the executive director of the union.
By the end of July, Fehr will have visited each of the teams to brief them on the status of contract negotiations as he gets a consensus from the players on when and if to strike this season. He has addressed seven of the 30 teams already in the past few weeks.
"From the player's point of view, a strike is a last resort," Fehr said Monday after the five-hour session. "It would not be entered into unless the players feel they have no other viable option. It is our hope over the next few weeks that we will enter some serious and substantive discussions with the owners. That's the goal. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that goal is realized."
Word of the decision not to yet set a strike date circulated as players began to leave the all-afternoon session.
In Milwaukee, where All-Star festivities are under way in preparation for Tuesday's annual midsummer game, the decision to stop short of setting a strike date was met with some anticipation.
"We're delighted that they didn't set a strike date," said Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources. "We look forward to getting back to the table and negotiating."
Eight collective bargaining sessions are scheduled for this month with the next one slated for Thursday in New York.
What the players heard from their union leadership was enough to keep the talks as a focal point.
In 1994, nearly a month before the players walked out, they authorized the board to set a strike date at a pre-All-Star Game meeting in Pittsburgh. Two weeks later, the board, which is made up of player representatives from each team and eight at-large members, designated Aug. 12. The sport was then shut down for the season when the players went on strike.
But the players in attendance Monday refrained from exercising that option.
"We formulated some ideas and opinions," said Michael Barrett, the player representative for the Montreal Expos. "The last thing we want to do is set a strike date. It's a last resort. But we are prepared to do it just in case."
Tony Clark, the Boston Red Sox's player rep, said Monday's session was by and large informational. He said not enough of that information has been delivered yet to baseball's 750 players on Major League rosters. Thus, it's too soon to set a strike date.
"We got a chance to talk over all the issues," Clark said. "Our focus is still the same - to go back to the table and get a deal done in the best interest of everyone involved."
The union meeting came with the backdrop of slow progress in collective bargaining sessions.
The previous basic agreement expired this past November and the two sides have been operating under its auspices since then.
In eight collective bargaining sessions since June 1, the two sides have resolved or tentatively resolved two packages of non-economic issues. The owners have also made some adjustments to their initial proposals on the core issues of increased revenue sharing and a reinstitution of the luxury tax. The players have not responded.
What the owners have proposed is to increase the percentage of local revenue each team would share, from 20 percent to 50 percent, and a 50 percent tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million, which combined would help slow the increase in salaries. Player salaries have soared from an average of $51,500 in 1976 to $2.38 million this year.
Fehr said Monday that there will be an increase of sharing from the current 20 percent of local revenue, but that the union was fundamentally against the luxury tax.
"The luxury tax is a significant penalty for hiring someone," Fehr said.
In its previous form, the luxury tax was not higher than 35 percent and the threshold for the tax was not higher than $58.9 million per team.
Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said that at its previous rate, the combination of revenue sharing and the luxury tax was not enough to abate the growth of salaries.
DuPuy agreed that MLB would eventually come to terms with the union on sharing of local revenues.
"It just depends on the percentage of luxury tax that the owners are going to be able to live with," he said.
Denny Hocking, the Minnesota Twins player rep, said he was still optimistic that all these issues could be resolved at the bargaining table.
"We believe we can get something done before it gets down to setting a date," Hocking said.
Barry M. Bloom is a regular contributor to MLB.com. This story was not
subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or any of its clubs.