Friday, August 09, 2002

Players, owners agree to minimum salary, benefits plan

AP Sports Writer

        NEW YORK — Players and owners agreed to a $100,000 increase in baseball's minimum salary Thursday, making more progress on minor issues as labor negotiations head into a key weekend.

        Faced with the possibility the union's executive board might set a strike date when it meets Monday in Chicago, both sides got three items out of the way and prepared to deal with larger issues.

        They set the minimum at $300,000 starting next year, and agreed to increases in the benefits plan that allow most 10-year veterans who played after 1970 to earn pensions of about $160,000 annually, the federal maximum. Also, they agreed to shorten the period for teams to fund deferred salaries.

        A day after baseball players ended decades of opposition to mandatory drug testing by agreeing to be checked for illegal steroids, management worked on a counterproposal it intended to present Friday.

        Increased revenue sharing and a luxury tax on high payrolls — the key economic issues — were not discussed.

        Houston became the latest team to authorize the union's executive board to set a strike deadline. Players, however, haven't reached a consensus on whether a date should be set.

        “It depends on what potentially happens the rest of this week, hoping that progress continues to be made,” Boston's Tony Clark, the AL player representative, said after his team met with union head Donald Fehr.

        Management labor lawyer Rob Manfred said negotiators intended to work through the weekend. Until now, talks have been limited to weekdays.

        “Whenever you are doing an agreement, there are points that become focus points in terms of attempting to reach an agreement to avoid this or that happening,” Manfred said. “Clearly, the parties have focused on this meeting Monday as a point in the process. We've worked hard against that deadline. Both sides have.”

        Management was pleased with the union's agreement to test for illegal steroids. The proposal calls for each player on a 40-man roster to be given an unannounced test in 2003 and 2004.

        While the players' proposal was limited to illegal steroids, management proposed a far-more extensive testing program last February. Owners also would test for other performance-enhancing drugs, such as the testosterone-booster androstenedione, which Mark McGwire used during his 70-homer season in 1998.

        Management proposed three tests annually for performance-enhancing drugs and one test a year for so-called “recreational” drugs like cocaine. The union's plan does not include testing for “recreational” drugs.

        Both sides say they have made progress on revenue sharing. Owners originally proposed increasing the amount of local revenue each team shares from 20 percent to 50 percent, and to redistribute money in the pool evenly to teams rather than give larger portions to those with the least revenue.

        It appears likely that management's desire for a luxury tax on high payrolls will determine whether baseball will have its ninth work stoppage since 1972.

        Owners proposed a 50 percent tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million, which would have cost big-spending clubs like the New York Yankees more than $20 million this year. Management hopes the big spenders would cut payroll to avoid paying high taxes.

        In addition to agreeing to a new major league minimum, negotiators approved an increase in the minimum for minor leaguers appearing on 40-man rosters for two or more seasons. It will be $50,000 next year, up from $40,500. Both major and minor leaguers will get a two-year cost-of-living adjustment for the 2005 season and a one-year cost-of-living adjustment for 2006.


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