Owners hope next talks yield settlement

November 20, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

HERNDON, Va. -- The baseball labor talks recessed early yesterday without significant progress toward a settlement, but the bargaining units have agreed to work behind the scenes this week and reconvene Nov. 28.

The Major League Baseball Players Association still has not given an official response to ownership's new taxation proposal, but the union has made it clear that the size of the excess payroll tax -- as the proposal is configured -- would have the same effect as a salary cap and would not be acceptable.

"They articulated that their goal is the same as it has always been and their proposal reflects that," union director Don Fehr said.

The owners are hoping to persuade the players to accept a system that would force high-revenue clubs to pay a severe tax for exceeding the average payroll of the 28 clubs. The money would go into a fund to help struggling small-market teams.

The players continue to voice resistance to anything that might restrict salaries and free agent movement, but special mediator William J. Usery has succeeded where previous mediation attempts have failed. He has managed to get both sides to concentrate on the financial issue that separates them.

That was reflected in another cordial post-bargaining news conference at the Dulles Airport Hyatt Regency Hotel, during which ownership spokesman John Harrington expressed hope that the labor dispute would be settled before the next set of negotiations end.

"I'm pleased that Don and the players are continuing to look at our proposal," Harrington said. "I'm very confident that the [negotiations] next week will be progressive. We intend to conduct very intensive and prolonged negotiations. Our goal will be to conclude things that week. No predictions, but that is our hope."

Of course, the owners will have a far greater sense of urgency than the players at that point. They will be only one week from the Dec. 7 deadline for offering salary arbitration to free agents and three weeks from the Dec. 20 deadline for tendering contracts to players under reserve.

Union officials spent the rest of yesterday contacting other members of the MLBPA executive board. They are expected to meet with ownership representatives in small groups early this week and likely will make a counterproposal when joint meetings resume. No location has been set for those talks.

Fehr has taken an uncharacteristically conciliatory tone during the past couple of weeks, but he was careful not to give the impression that a settlement might be more likely now than it was before Usery entered the negotiations.

"When it looks like somebody sees a solution, you'll know it," Fehr said. "At the end of this process, if we feel we can make a counterproposal that would advance this process, we will make it."

The next negotiating summit figures to be critical. If no progress is made, the owners might feel internal pressure to declare an impasse and implement their proposal. If that happens, it might end any hope of labor peace and spark a legal war that could last for years.

No doubt, both sides would like to avoid that, but the reaction of several owners to an erroneous published report last week that the ownership bargaining committee had abandoned the salary cap left room to wonder if there really is room for a negotiated settlement.

Some owners contacted acting commissioner Bud Selig and negotiator Richard Ravitch to make sure that was not true.

They were assured that nothing significant had changed, and they need a coalition of only eight owners to make sure that nothing is agreed upon that ignores that goal. The owners still need 21 votes to approve any settlement.

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