Contraction could be key negotiating tool in baseball labor talks

Owners may drop it for union concessions

August 15, 2002|By Phil Rogers | Phil Rogers,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

While Commissioner Bud Selig insists that efforts to eliminate the Montreal Expos and another franchise are more than a ploy, contraction could wind up as a bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations between owners and players.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, says contraction is still an issue that remains on the table. It is possible that management will agree to drop, or at least delay significantly, the effort to eliminate two of the 30 major-league franchises in exchange for concessions from the union on a luxury tax, which has become the key issue in the talks.

A ruling from arbitrator Shaym Das on the unions grievance over contraction was expected in mid-July, but Das is not ready to issue his ruling. Fehr suggested Monday that developments at the bargaining table could make such a decision unnecessary.

A day after players agreed to allow talks to continue without a strike deadline until at least Friday, Fehr and an MLB bargaining team led by executive vice president Rob Manfred resumed meetings in New York. They spent about three hours in face-to-face discussions and had many telephone conversations between offices.

According to Manfred, the day was spent attempting to find common ground on the issue most likely to lead to a strikethe owners attempt to institute a luxury tax. While the union views such a tax as an additional form of revenue sharing, Manfred said owners see it as payroll regulation.

Owners opened negotiations seeking a 50-percent tax on any teams payroll above $98 million. They bumped the threshold to $100 million last weekend and were believed to have made another move Tuesday, either raising the threshold again or lowering the tax rate.

Manfred declined to discuss specifics of his proposal but was encouraged by the days activity.

"We're closer (to a deal) today than we were 24 hours ago, he said. "We had a productive day. The differences between the parties are smaller today than they were 24 hours ago."

Manfred reiterated that both sides feel "tremendous pressure" to get a deal done.

I'm going to try to be as consistent on this as I can, Manfred said. Friday is a little too specific for me. I do believe its possible for us to make an agreement in the next several days.

Phil Rogers is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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