The well-publicized strife between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the league’s owners prior to the 2020 season appeared to be done and dusted once games finally commenced. However, the labor peace that baseball fans have experienced recently is proving to be short lived, as the MLBPA recently filed a grievance against the league. If last summer’s petty squabbles are any indication, this newest battle will undoubtedly be a long and arduous process that will be decided in court, and will cast a pall over the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.
To recap, the COVID-19 pandemic threw Major League Baseball, as well as virtually every other corporation, into a state of flux in early 2020. The season was postponed indefinitely in March, with the rationale that when a safe way to conduct games became clear, the season would commence. Both the MLBPA and the owners agreed early on to make their best efforts to play as many games as possible once a season could begin.
However, the issue was not as simple as merely getting back on the field, as the all-important financial aspect of the game reared its ugly head. The players argued that they deserved prorated salaries, meaning if the season was 70 games long, they would earn 70 games worth of pay. The owners, on the other hand, posited that since fans would not be allowed in ballparks, revenue would go down across the league, and the players should share that burden. In essence, they wanted the players to take a further pay cut. The MLBPA displayed righteous indignation at this suggestion, arguing that when profits go up, they don’t receive a bigger slice of the pie, so when profits go down, they should not need to help offset the owners’ losses. With no agreement on salaries, there could be no agreement on season length, as the owners sought a shorter season with lower salaries, and the players wanted the exact opposite. Suffice it to say, the two sides were at an impasse.
Unfortunately, no common ground would be found, and the only way a baseball season commenced was by Commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally imposing a 60-game season with prorated salaries. At first, baseball had a golden opportunity to be the first major sport back in action in late May or early June, but the bickering between the players and owners dragged on and on, leading to the season commencing on July 23rd. While a season was eventually played and baseball fans moved past the ugly affair, the MLBPA has not. This week’s events center around the manner in which the 2020 negotiations took place. The MLBPA recently filed a grievance alleging that the owners negotiated in bad faith, as they attempted to enact a drastically shorter season than was possible in order to offset their losses in revenue.
The MLBPA seems to have a pretty solid argument, as both sides exchanged proposals for season lengths of upwards of 70 games before the owners ultimately pushed for 60. While the owners claim that this was in response to safety issues imposed by the pandemic, the players argue that it was greed, plain and simple. The MLBPA is seeking a settlement of up to $500 million to make up for the lost income.
While a win in court and the subsequent payday would be huge for the players, the more important aspect of this case comes in the discovery phase. If the process becomes a drawn out legal battle, the owners will be forced to open up their books, showing the MLBPA exactly how much money they’re making, and giving a dollar-for-dollar accounting of league wide revenue. This information would be a coup for the union in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, as the players will now know exactly how much money the owners are making off of their labor, and will likely justify their push to get a whole lot more of that cash. If this past year’s ugliness has taught us anything, it is that the MLBPA and the owners will fight over every last penny, and the fans and the game of baseball will be worse off because of it.