MLBPA Grievance: Bad Faith Negotiating or Bargaining Tactic?

            Most would consider the 2020 pandemic shortened MLB season a success when the league successfully made it through crowning the Los Angeles Dodgers as the World Series Champions. The Major League Baseball Players Association (“MLBPA”) feels otherwise.

The MLBPA believes the league negotiated in bad faith when coming to terms for the structure of the shortened season. Recently, the MLBPA filed a grievance against the league claiming they did not attempt to play as many games as possible in the shortened 2020 season.

            The essence of the grievance stems from the language in the agreement reached last year where the league stated it would make its best efforts to play as many games as possible. The agreement was struck down less than a month later; another was not agreed upon until it was clear no fans would be in attendance. The two sides could not agree on a prorated salary structure.

With the lack of a new agreement, Commissioner Rob Manfred implemented a 60 game season under the terms laid out in March of 2020. Salaries, service time, incentive clauses, and conditions were all prorated.

The MLBPA’s grievance seeks as much as $500 million. New York Post reporter Joel Sherman reports this is the equivalent of about 20 games of additional pay. The league argues that 60 games was the maximum possible due to health and safety concerns. However, they submitted proposals for a greater number of games, but did so with additional salary cuts which the league knew would not be considered by the union.

            The league has requested the union fast-track this grievance so that it can be resolved before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1, 2021. The union would and should be tentative to do so because a concession to drop the grievance can be used as a bargaining chip in the upcoming CBA negotiations.

            The vague language in the March 2020 agreement has developed a new issue that will surely be used in the CBA negotiations in early December of this year. If the two sides cannot settle on this issue, it will eventually be heard by a three-person arbitration panel, where one member is chosen by the league, one by the union, and a mutually agreed upon third party (who will likely decide the outcome).

            It will be interesting to see how this grievance impacts the upcoming CBA negotiations, which already have a plethora of issues on the table. Among those issues negotiated will be: the players’ share of revenues (specifically postseason deals), service time manipulation, the luxury tax, competitive balance issues (implementing a potential salary floor), and the pay disparity between highly productive younger players and older free agents who are failing to produce up to their pay grade.

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