Friday, August 02, 2002

Labor dispute down to dollars, sense

By Hal Bodley

        As baseball heads into the dog days of August this weekend, whatever ray of optimism has existed recently could be blocked by the dark cloud that hangs over crucial labor talks.

        Rhetoric from the union has been mild during three days of negotiations, but management and the players remain far apart on economic issues.

        With sessions in New York set to resume Friday after a day off Thursday, the next 10 days will determine whether the union sets a strike date.

        Union chief Don Fehr said setting a strike date hasn't been considered by the players' executive board.

        “We hope we don't have to set a date,” said Fehr, who will finish his tour of all 30 teams this weekend when he meets with the Boston Red Sox. “The greatest hope is that it gets settled before we get to that point. I'm hopeful that we'll find a way to get a deal.”

        After his team met with Fehr, New York Yankees player representative Mike Stanton said, “There are reasons for us to be optimistic.”

        Management lawyer Rob Manfred went out of his way this week to say a settlement can be reached without the ninth work stoppage since 1972.

        “Don't believe the argument they have no choice,” he said. “They clearly do have a choice. If we don't have an agreement in the off-season, they have responses available to them.”

        In a matter that could become an issue in negotiations, arbitrator Shyam Das postponed his decision Thursday on the union's grievance about management's contraction plan. He called both sides and asked for extra time.

        The reality of the labor situation is that even though numbers were crunched all week, there are philosophical and economic differences in the key issue of revenue sharing. The sides remain $70 million apart.

        There has been virtually no discussion on the owners' proposal for a payroll luxury tax - 50 percent on the amount above $98 million. Even though there was a luxury tax for several years in the agreement that expired Nov. 7, the union remains opposed to the concept.

        There's also the matter of steroids and drug testing. The union is opposed to random drug testing, which is part of a proposal made by management in March. Fehr promises to have a counterproposal soon.

        The executive board, which is supposed to have a conference call early next week, could set a strike date the following week. The start of the 1994-95 strike was Aug. 12, 1994.


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