Is owners-players show mission impossible?

September 05, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

It appears to be an impossible deadline. Acting commissioner Bud Selig has made this the final week to settle baseball's labor dispute and save the rest of the season, but there does not appear to be the time or inclination to bring an end to the 25-day-old players strike.

"Time is growing shorter," ownership negotiator Richard Ravitch said yesterday, "but I don't want to create any sense of suspense, because there isn't any. There's nothing in the oven that's going to come out a chocolate cake at the moment."

There is no reason even to think that negotiations will resume with enough time remaining to produce a settlement. No meetings are scheduled for the Labor Day holiday today, and both sides probably will observe Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), which means that formal negotiations figure to resume no sooner than Thursday.

If that is the case, the only scenario that would salvage the pennant stretch and the postseason would be an unconditional surrender by one side or the other. No one seriously expects the players or the owners to back down at this point.

Selig insisted on Friday that the deadline was not another hard-line negotiating ploy, and the timing appears to bear him out. The way it looks now, the imposition of an official point of no return doesn't figure to have a catalytic effect on the collective bargaining process. It could even have the opposite effect.

Once the owners concede that there is no possibility of restarting the season and salvaging the quickly diminishing financial benefits of the postseason, they will have no incentive to be conciliatory with the union. Sept. 9 might as well be Nov. 1.

"You don't set a one-week deadline on Sept. 2 with Labor Day and Jewish New Year in between if you have any desire to negotiate," Major League Baseball Players Association director Donald Fehr said. "There is no time and there is no desire."

The union may have miscalculated ownership resolve, but it probably would not have made any difference in their collective bargaining strategy. The players had little choice but to strike and find out if the owners would again wilt under the economic and public pressure.

That apparently is not going to happen, so each side can only continue to wait out the other. There have been some more conversations between union officials and individual owners, but they have not had any significant impact on the dispute.

Union officials are expected to look to the National Labor Relations Board this week for help in recovering the $7.8 million in All-Star-related revenues that the owners refused to deposit in the players' pension and benefits fund. The union hopes that the NLRB will charge Major League Baseball with an unfair labor practice and compel the owners to make the payment.

The grievance also could help the players down the road, when and if the owners declare the negotiations at an impasse and try to impose the salary cap proposal unilaterally. The players XTC association undoubtedly will charge that the owners failed to bargain in good faith before declaring the impasse, and the missed pension payment almost certainly will be part of the union case.

No one can say for certain what will happen at that point, but it figures to be a legal and logistical mess. The union still is hopeful that Congress will step in this month and remove Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption, but even without that help the players have the wherewithal to carry on the fight through the NLRB and the courts for the next couple of years.

They also have the right to carry the strike into next season, but it is not known whether that would be worth the price. The union has speculated that the owners' salary cap play could cost the players more than $1 billion over its seven-year term. If the strike were to carry halfway into the 1995 season, the players would stand to lose a total of nearly $700 million without any guarantee of victory.

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