Owners try to heat up labor talks

New revenue-sharing plan gets delivered to union as strike date looms

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

NEW YORK -- Baseball owners presented a new revenue-sharing deal to the union to try to spark talks, calling the offer a significant step toward what players want.

The proposal, made Tuesday night and disclosed Wednesday, was much better received than management's luxury-tax plan last week, which was so far from what players would accept that they set an Aug. 30 strike date.

Revenue sharing among teams and a luxury tax on high payrolls to slow salary increases are the chief issues that could lead to baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972.

Rob Manfred, management's top labor lawyer, said the revenue-sharing plan was a ''substantial move toward the union both in structure and in transfer amount.'' He wouldn't disclose details of the proposal, but another person familiar with the plan, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it would transfer about $270 million, $12 million less than management's previous offer. Manfred said the next move is up to the players.

''I am frustrated a little bit,'' he said. ''I'd like to get a more active dialogue going on the tax and the revenue sharing, but it takes two parties to have a dialogue.''

Union lawyers said the proposal was a move in the right direction, but they wouldn't agree the shift was ''substantial.''

''We will respond to their proposal on revenue sharing in the very near future, more likely than not tomorrow,'' Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official, said after Wednesday's second bargaining session.

In memos to players and agents last weekend, union head Donald Fehr said players already had agreed to raise the amount of money to be transferred from high-revenue teams to low-revenue teams from $169 million to $235 million annually, using 2001 figures. Before their latest offer Tuesday, owners had proposed $282 million be transferred.

Meanwhile, a management lawyer sent a nine-page memo to team executives to prepare them for a strike. The memo to chief financial officers, general managers and assistant general managers urged them to make plans to cut expenses.

''All operations should be carefully reviewed with an eye toward reducing overhead costs during the strike,'' said the memo, written by Frank Coonelly, a lawyer in the labor relations department of the commissioner's office.

Coonelly's Aug. 19 memo, read to The Associated Press on Wednesday by a team official, details how teams should look to cut costs.

Each team, he wrote, should ''examine all of its contractual obligations, including agreements with other unions, employment contracts. leases, etc., to determine what cost-saving measures may be taken during the strike.''

Since the 1994-95 strike, which lasted 232 days and wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years, the commissioner's office instituted standard employee contracts for non-players such as managers, GMs, scouts and trainers.

''The commissioner has the authority to suspend uniform employee contracts when there is a player strike,'' Coonelly wrote in his memo. ''No decision has been made regarding the exercise of this authority in the event of a strike.''

Some employees may have had special provisions inserted into their contracts guaranteeing their pay during a strike.

Negotiators are working to prevent another walkout, but it appears that the talks, like always in baseball, will go right up to the deadline. With the sides stuck on the luxury tax, management turned to revenue sharing in an effort to build momentum toward a deal.

''We thought it was a productive step to try to move the other related piece in the hope the whole negotiation would move forward,'' Manfred said.

Players fear that a large increase in revenue sharing, when combined with a luxury tax, would take away too much money from baseball's high-payroll teams, who would otherwise spend it on salaries.

Manfred said owners had more room to compromise on revenue sharing and a luxury tax.

''We have the flexibility I believe is necessary to get to a negotiated agreement, assuming all parties are willing to enter into meaningful compromises,'' he said.



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