We are now in the fourth week of February, yet a familiar tradition has not taken place. Major League baseball players have not yet reported to their respective camps for Spring Training. Unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association last December, the MLB owners imposed a lockout preventing the players from reporting to work until a new deal is reached.
Is this like the infamous players strike in 1994 that led to the cancellation of the playoffs and World Series for the first time in history? Not really. However, what is happening now is a reaction to how that labor dispute in 1994 played out. The CBA expired after the season in 1993, just as it did after the conclusion of this past season. The MLB owners agreed to allow the 1994 season to begin as they continued bargaining with the Players Association. Without the pressure to consummate a deal quickly, the labor negotiations lingered and disagreements and frustrations festered. The players voted to go on strike right before the beginning of the playoffs, when they felt they had the most leverage, and the strike lasted until April of 1995, forcing the shortening of that season as well.
This time around, the MLB Owners preemptively locked out the players, hoping to avoid the protracted strike of 1994. Just as in 1994, the key issue is money. The players believe that owners no longer reward older players through free agency, and seek to change the compensation system for younger players who are often controlled by their team for their first six years. The owners have made some movement on core economic proposals made by the Players Association, but a large gap remains.
This brings up an important consideration for employers, whether unionized or not. It is critical to analyze your business, and the industry, to find the middle ground between what motivates your employees and what you are comfortable with. The pandemic and subsequent “great resignation” have further intensified the need for employers to become creative with satisfying their employee’s demands.
One thing is certain – too much money is at stake for this particular dispute to continue much longer. As is often the case, there is ample room for the parties to reach an agreement in the middle, addressing some legitimate points raised by the Players Association. That is something I hope happens quickly, so everyone (including me) can get back to watching baseball.