Striking out in search of answers

March 21, 1995|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

The 1995 baseball season is scheduled to begin in 12 days, but major-league players remain on strike and 27 of the 28 major-league clubs are preparing to start without them. The labor dispute that wiped out the last two months of the 1994 season and forced the cancellation of the playoffs and World Series is threatening to turn a once-flourishing industry into a mockery, but there have been no real negotiations for the past two weeks.

So where does baseball go from here? Seven months into the longest work stoppage in the history of major professional sport, there still are more questions than answers about the future of the game and the likely outcome of this war between the players and owners.

Q: It has been two weeks since there were any substantive negotiations. Does anybody really want to make a deal?

A: It certainly doesn't look that way. The moment things started to move in Scottsdale, Ariz., two weeks ago, everybody found an excuse to leave town. The day that negotiations were supposed to resume in Orlando, Fla., last week, the players had not yet arrived and the ownership negotiating team already had left. You don't need Tony Robbins to tell you that somebody's not motivated.

Q: If they get back together this week, is there time to save the '95 season and avoid the prospect of replacement ball?

A: There is no way that the season could start on time with major-league players, but if a settlement is reached in the next week, the replacement scheme likely would be abandoned and the start of the season delayed until mid-April.

Q: The National Labor Relations Board has issued an unfair labor complaint against the owners and has asked for permission to seek an injunction that would force management to resume operations under the rules of the previous labor agreement. What does that mean and how would it affect the current labor situation?

A: The NLRB complaint appears to vindicate the union's position that the owners have not been bargaining in good faith, but the actual impact of the complaint may be minimal. The labor board will hold a hearing on the complaint and eventually may try to impose sanctions on the owners, but that would be only the beginning of a legal process that could take years.

Q: What about the injunction? Won't that speed up the process and get the players back on the field?

A: Union leaders have said that they would call off the strike if the NLRB convinces a federal judge to issue an injunction that restores old rules on salary arbitration and free agency, but that probably wouldn't end the work stoppage. Even if the players call off the strike, the owners have made it clear they would lock out the players rather than resume operations under the old economic system.

Q: If the owners lock out the players, doesn't labor law prohibit the use of strikebreakers?

A: The law in this area apparently is subject to interpretation, so much so that even officials of the National Labor Relations Board are hard-pressed to give a clear answer to that question. The owners intend to go ahead with replacement players, but that decision could become the subject of another unfair labor practice charge down the road.

Q: Is there any hope that the owners will choose to let the players come back?

A: It's possible, but very unlikely. The owners need a 75 percent majority to approve a lockout, and they appear to have the votes. It would take eight teams to block that decision, and there are only five teams that have voiced any resistance to management's hard-line strategy. The Orioles have been the most vocal in dissent, but the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers also could vote against a lockout. The new ownership of the San Diego Padres could waver, and there are other clubs with reason to break ranks, but it would be a major upset if the hard-liners failed to get the necessary 21 votes.

Q: Why are they being so stubborn? Wouldn't it be better to begin the season under the old rules and continue negotiations?

A: That might seem logical, but in the context of a labor dispute that has been going on since December 1992, it doesn't make much sense. The players want to maintain the status quo, so any decision that keeps the old work rules in place would be a clear victory for the union and would leave the players with no motivation to negotiate. They would be happy to work indefinitely without a new labor agreement.

Q: Isn't the complaint by the NLRB an indication the players are right and the owners wrong?

A: That would be a fair question if the issue of who's right and who's wrong was relevant. Collective bargaining is a process by which labor and management negotiate the working conditions and compensation of employees. It is a process in which both sides have the right to bargain for whatever they think would be in their best interests. The problem with this particular negotiation may be that neither side has been completely honest about that.

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