One day after Major League Baseball requested federal mediation to assist in settling a labor dispute that has entered its third month, the MLB Players Association declined third-party intervention and called for further negotiation between the sides.
The players’ decision, announced Friday in a three-paragraph statement, did not come as a surprise. Although the MLBPA initially declined to comment after the league made its request to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, indications were that the players were unlikely to participate in the voluntary mediation process.
“After consultation with our Executive Board, and taking into account a variety of factors, we have declined this request,” the MLBPA said in its statement. “The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table. Players stand ready to negotiate.”
An MLB spokesman said the league believes mediation is necessary to “work through our differences and break the deadlock” in order to avoid delays in spring training and opening day.
“It is clear the most productive path forward would be the involvement of an impartial third party to help bridge gaps and facilitate an agreement,” MLB said through the spokesman. “It is hard to understand why a party that wants to make an agreement would reject mediation from the federal agency specifically tasked with resolving these disputes, including many successes in professional sports.”
Mediation by the FMCS, an independent governmental agency, aided in the resolution of the NHL lockout in 2012. The MLBPA didn’t find mediation to be helpful during the 1994-95 strike. Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine, then a prominent leader in the union, referred to mediator William Usery’s attempts to help spur a deal as “outrageous.”
But the players’ primary reason for declining mediation was that they don’t believe MLB and the owners have attempted good-faith negotiations.
New York Mets ace Max Scherzer, a union leader, put it simply: “We don’t need mediation because what we are offering to MLB is fair for both sides.”
The sides have met in New York throughout the week, mostly on less contentious collective bargaining topics than the economics issues that so deeply divide them. They haven’t talked core economics since a heated 90-minute meeting Tuesday, when the players made two proposals that the league and owners did not believe advanced the negotiations. Rather than making counterproposals, MLB chose to seek mediation.
So, what happens next?
With pitchers and catchers due to report to camps on or around Feb. 15, spring training is all but certain to be delayed unless the owners unexpectedly agree to lift the lockout that they directed commissioner Rob Manfred to enact on Dec. 2. The owners will hold their quarterly meetings next week in Orlando, Fla., with Manfred scheduled to be in attendance. It’s not known whether negotiations will continue during those meetings.
If a deal can’t be reached by the end of the month, the regular season would almost certainly be delayed. The players would begin missing paychecks once the season starts. The owners would stand to lose money if the 162-game schedule is shortened.
Via Twitter, Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver referred to the mediation request as “a tactic to show they are bargaining in good faith.” But MLB didn’t meet with the players for 42 days after calling for the lockout. Players are also frustrated that MLB’s proposals since the end of November haven’t touched on the competitive-balance tax, a major issue in the negotiations.
“The only thing holding us back is the league dragging their heels on negotiations that will lead to lost games in 2022,” Garver said on Twitter. “I feel bad for the fans mostly because I know all players want to be at [spring training] in a few weeks, so when we’re ready to figure it out the players will be ready.”
Kansas City Royals star Whit Merrifield summed it up thusly: “Seems to me like in order to get a Collective Bargaining Agreement done, you need to bargain,” Merrifield said via Twitter. “Players remain waiting #AtTheTable.”