Major League Baseball on Thursday requested the immediate assistance of a federal mediator to help resolve the sport’s lockdown, sources told ESPN, potentially inserting the presence of a neutral party to end a work stoppage now. in its third month.
The league has contacted the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a government agency that tries to help resolve labor disputes, sources said. Mediation is not mandatory and the MLB Players Association should accept third party intervention.
MLB locked out the players on Dec. 2 after the parties could not reach agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Since then, the parties have met four times. None of the sessions provided significant traction for a new collective bargaining agreement after more than a quarter century of social peace.
An MLB spokesperson would only confirm that the request for mediation had been made. The union declined to comment.
Mediation, a process by which an outside party intervenes in a labor dispute, has been common throughout the history of labor relations in sport. The role of mediators is more to bridge communication problems between the parties and to help find common ground than to offer mandates or implement solutions. Mediators were used during MLBPA strikes in 1981 and 1994—the latter of which failed to reach a resolution.
Recent mediation efforts in other sports have yielded positive results. After helping resolve the National Hockey League lockout in 2013, mediator Scot Beckenbaugh, who remains the FMCS’ “master mediator”, has been praised by union members and league officials for helping pave the way for an agreement. Beckenbaugh also brokered the 2015 Major League Soccer strike and a handful of other recent disputes between leagues and referee unions.
More than two decades earlier, mediation efforts in MLB had had the opposite effect. Mediator Bill Usery angered the players with his approach and could not save the 1994 World Series or reach an agreement for the start of the 1995 season. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, a labor leader at the time, said: “We were ready to compromise, and we showed it. But Mr. Usery’s proposal was outrageous in many cases. We would give things away that we have gone on strike before. Mr. Usery could not answer any questions about the meaning of much of his proposal.
Don Fehr, then MLBPA manager, expressed similar disappointment.
While the chasm between the union and the league may not be as wide as it was in 1994, the parties’ inability to make progress has resulted in an almost certain postponement of spring training, which is set to begin in the middle of the month. Some industry players, both on the league and player side, fear the opening day of March 31 could be in jeopardy if no resolution is found by the end of February.
The issues to be addressed are manifold, although almost all of them revolve around the game’s basic economy. at an earlier age, to remove artificial market constraints such as selection penalties for signing free agents and selection penalties for overspending. the luxury tax, fixing service time manipulation and discouraging tanking. The league, which wants to keep player salaries the same, has sought to expand the playoffs and preserve current rules governing free agency, arbitration and revenue sharing.
There has been progress. The league agreed to remove direct draft selection compensation and offered a universal designated hitter. The union said it would expand the playoffs to 12 teams, down from the 14 MLB is seeking, and offered to allow uniform advertising patches. Both sides are open to a coin toss, with MLB proposing that non-playoff teams be eligible for the top three picks while the union countered with the top eight picks as part of the system. MLB has agreed to consider a bonus pool for players not eligible for arbitration that would be $10 million. The union, in its latest offer on Tuesday, countered at $100 million, down $5 million from its previous offer.
The parties left the session acknowledging that little progress had been made, although the union, sources said, was anticipating a counter offer from the league at the end of this week. Instead, MLB, ahead of owners’ meetings in Orlando next week, tried to engage a mediator who, if the union agrees to the league’s efforts, could accomplish what neither side has. was able to do in 10 months of negotiation.