Umpires ratify labor agreement
Five-year deal with MLB lasts through end of 2014
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Members of the World Umpires Association voted late Monday night to ratify a new five-year contract with Major League Baseball that will extend to Dec. 31, 2014. MLB's owners certified the deal this past Thursday during their joint meeting in nearby Paradise Valley.Monday's vote by the 67 umpires attending a 5 1/2-hour general session formally finalizes the new contract, which was agreed upon in principal last month, only eight days before the old one expired this past Dec. 31. "It wasn't unanimous, but it was the most overwhelming vote I've ever participated in," said Joe West, the veteran umpire who is president of the umpires' union. "Everyone is very happy and pleased that we could work through this. This was a good day for baseball and a good day for the umpires. We will make every effort to keep baseball and professional umpires first. We will all work hard to make it right." The owners and union were in negotiations all last year on this new contract, and for the second consecutive extended collective-bargaining session, came to agreement without acrimony. Since the issue wasn't decided until about 10 p.m. MT, MLB officials weren't available to comment. They had said last week that they would not do so until after the umpires ratified the deal. As part of the agreement, Commissioner Bud Selig will have more flexibility to dictate expansion of the instant replay system and umpires will now be able to work in successive World Series. There was also a modest pay raise that increases over the course of the contract and buyouts that will allow veteran umpires the ability to retire early. "The retirement issue was important to several umpires who are thinking about it," said Brian Lam, an attorney for the Perennial Law Group in Washington that represents the umps. "The provisions of this contract will allow them to do that comfortably in the near future." Under the old agreement, the six umpires who called a particular World Series would not be able to do so again for two years, although they were available to work the Division Series and the League Championship Series the next postseason. That flexibility alone would allow baseball to use its best umpires throughout the playoffs on a rotating basis, although umpires still won't be able to work successive series in a given postseason. The World Series clause is still being worked out, West said, and is subject to "tweaks." As far as replay is concerned, it now covers boundary calls on home runs -- fair or foul, in or out. That issue was negotiated with umpires outside of regular collective bargaining in 2008 and the program was put in place in August of that year. Selig said recently that he would consider expanding replay after a spate of missed calls plagued the first two rounds of last year's postseason. The expansion of replay is now a matter before Selig's 14-man Special Committee, which met this past Thursday and is expected to convene again during the next few weeks. By and large, the umps were satisfied with the contract, Lam said. "You would always like a little more, but these are especially challenging times, and under the circumstances the umpires are happy with the deal and we know baseball is, too," Lam said. "Nothing controversial was raised [at the meeting]. We had updated the membership, and they had asked everything well in advance by e-mail. So more than anything, there was a lot of review of the issues." The World Umpires Association was certified by the National Labor Relations board on Feb. 24, 2000, and became the negotiating arm of the umpires. Its first president was John Hirschbeck, who was replaced by West this past April. The certification came after the dissolution of the old union -- the Major League Umpires Association. In 1999, led by President Richie Phillips, 50 of the 66 umpires resigned as a negotiating ploy to move along collective bargaining. Some rescinded their resignations, but MLB ultimately accepted the resignation of 22 umpires, thus breaking that union. Since then, 11 of those 22 umpires have been reinstated, including West, Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion and Ed Hickox, who were added during the successful negotiations of 2004. Thus, MLB concluded the past decade without a work stoppage involving either the players or the umpires for the first time since the 1960s. Under the leadership of Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, the owners have negotiated successfully with unions of both entities four times since the players threatened to strike for the last time in 2002. "If somebody would have told us, particularly me, having lived the work stoppages of '72, '73, '81, '84, '85, '90 and '94 that we would have 16 years of labor peace with the players and the umpires, I'd have said they would be crazy," Selig said last week. "This has been good. That's why the sport has grown. I don't think anyone realized the damage we were doing to the sport. People were tired of reading and hearing that stuff every day."