How Mediation Could Have Helped Resolve the MLB Lockout

            Instead of countering the Major League Baseball Players Association’s (MLBPA) latest offer, Major League Baseball (MLB) requested a federal mediator to assist in its ongoing collective bargaining negotiations. The MLBPA quickly rejected that request, leaving the parties far from an agreement and ultimately putting the 2022 season in flux. There are many positive impacts mediation could have had on progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and providing baseball fans all 162 games in the 2022 season:

            Mediation is a private process where a neutral third-party, called a mediator, helps the parties discuss and try to resolve the dispute. The only people who can resolve the dispute are the parties themselves, not the mediator. The mediator does not have the power to make a decision for the parties, but s/he will help steer the conversation in a mutually beneficial direction. The mediation process is completely voluntary, and parties are not required to come to an agreement.

            Parties are given the opportunity to describe issues, discuss their interests, understandings, and feelings, provide each other with information and explore ideas for resolution of the dispute. The idea is to keep the parties communicating and allow them to better understand their interests. There is a major difference between positions and interests. Currently the MLB and MLBPA are stuck on their positions, which is why they have yet to come close to an agreement. A key part of mediation is to get both parties to disclose their underlying interests, which may not have come to light in earlier negotiations.

            The most common way for parties in a negotiation to reach an impasse is for the parties to be stuck in their positions. Positions are what a party says they want. They are typically surface statements indicating where a party stands, and rarely provide insight into underlying motivations, values or incentives. On the other hand, interests are why a party wants what they want. They are the underlying reasons, values or motivations, and explain why a party takes a certain position. Sometimes, a party’s position conflicts with their underlying interests. In the case of MLB and the MLBPA, their current positions are getting in the way of their underlying interests of starting the season on time and generating revenue for a 162 game season. The job of the mediator is less to convince than it is to find solutions that address both parties’ interests. This is why mediation is considered an assisted negotiation.

            There are a number of different ways a mediation can take place. Most mediations start with the parties in a joint session. In the case of the MLB and MLBPA, which have many people on each side of the table, it is likely Commissioner Rob Manfred, accompanied by a team of lawyers, would have sat across from the President of the MLBPA, Tony Clark, and his team of lawyers, both aided by a third-party neutral to help facilitate the conversation. The mediator would then describe the process and establish ground rules and an agenda for the mediation. Sometimes mediators will conduct the entire process in a joint session, but if the conversation comes to a halt, the mediator might break and meet with each party individually in what is called a caucus. A caucus is where the mediator will shuttle back and forth between the parties to gauge where they are at in terms of the flow of the conversation, and whatever else they need assistance in discussing. It is more likely than not, given the history of the MLB and the MLBPA, the process would not have been entirely handled in a joint session.

            The two sides took 43 days to have their first meeting since the start of the lockout on December 1st, and have made little headway since that meeting. As the season gets closer, it is inevitable spring training will be delayed and America’s pastime may not get underway on time. Mediation might have been the key to getting the two sides unstuck from their positions and discussing their underlying interests in greater detail. Mediation is an entirely private process, but if the two sides come to an agreement, much of what was discussed would have been laid out in the next CBA. With spring training in jeopardy, the Commissioner’s office knew it needed to move quickly to start the season on time, and mediation could have been baseball’s saving grace that allowed just that. With the Players’ Association denying the request, the two sides continue to remain at odds, and baseball fans are no more hopeful they will get a full 2022 season.

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Former college baseball player, focusing my legal studies on the intersection of sport, law, and business.

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