PHOENIX - Trying new approaches, Bud Selig and Donald Fehr are attempting to negotiate a labor contract without the acrimony that has led to work stoppages in every previous labor negotiation. But while Fehr's visit to a meeting of major-league owners yesterday was unprecedented, it does not suggest a narrowing of differences.
At the conclusion of two days of talks between owners, Selig reiterated his belief that "we need a reform of the economic system." Battle lines are being drawn over the owners' attempts to increase the sharing of local revenues significantly while also instituting a luxury tax on the highest payrolls.
Shortly after spending two hours privately with owners, Fehr made his first public response to the contract proposal Selig delivered to him last week. That included a 50 percent tax on all payrolls above $98 million, and an increase in revenue sharing from 20 to 50 percent.
"Our luxury-tax position is well known," said Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. "Players aren't luxuries. That is a difficult issue for us. We did agree to a luxury tax in the last agreement, and that is something on the table again. How it all goes, I don't know."
Selig, who as commissioner is taking a leading role in the negotiations, and other owners believe major increases in revenue sharing are necessary to help restore competitive balance. But they cannot change the ratios without approval of the union.
Historically, revenue sharing has been a divisive issue for owners, with big-revenue clubs making only modest concessions. But this time Selig appears to have the support for change. The players, who never have had to argue against revenue sharing, present a hurdle.
While the labor contract negotiated in 1996 had provisions for increased revenue sharing and a luxury tax, the tax was phased out in the 2000 and '01 seasons. Fehr pointed out that it was in this time period that revenue sharing reached 20 percent.