Locked out MLB players reject offer of federal mediation

The start of spring training likely will be a casualty of Major League Baseball’s lockout, which will threaten opening day unless the drawn-out talks lead to a deal in less than a month.

After a half-year of bickering over the sport’s economics, baseball’s warring factions couldn’t even agree on whether to have a mediator.

The Major League Baseball Players Association on Friday ruled out a third party intervening, one day after MLB asked for help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,

“Two months after implementing their lockout, and just two days after committing to players that a counterproposal would be made, the owners refused to make a counter, and instead requested mediation,” the union said in a statement.

“After consultation with our executive board, and taking into account a variety of factors, we have declined this request. The clearest path to a fair and timely agreement is to get back to the table. Players stand ready to negotiate.”

Owners locked out players on Dec. 2, immediately following the expiration of a five-year collective bargaining agreement. There have been just three negotiating sessions on core economics since, on Jan. 24-25 and this past Tuesday plus a digital session on Jan. 13. The sides are still far apart.

Players blame owners for the lockout. Commissioner Rob Manfred said his side was being proactive, not wanting to risk a late-season strike similar to the one that wiped out the 1994 World Series.

Players are upset payrolls declined to $4.05 billion last year, the lowest in a fully completed year since 2015. They are asking for an expansion of salary arbitration eligibility, a significant increase in luxury tax thresholds and minimum salaries, a decrease in revenue sharing and new rules to prevent what they allege is service time manipulation by clubs.

Teams say they will not expand arbitration or decrease revenue sharing, and that intensive negotiations on the luxury tax are for the final stage of bargaining.

The lockout entered its 65th day Friday and shows every sign of rolling past the scheduled start of spring training workouts on Feb. 16. Given that at least three weeks of training and exhibition games are required and the need for several days for players to report to camps and go through COVID-19 protocols, opening day on March 31 will be threatened if there is no agreement by the end of February or early March.

There is little chance of negotiations next week, when owners are scheduled to meet from Tuesday to Thursday in Orlando, Florida. Management’s bargaining team is expected in Orlando for the session.

Players do not start accruing salary until opening day, and teams generate a large portion of their revenue from opening day through the World Series.

Baseball’s ninth work stoppage is its first since a series of strikes and lockouts set back the sport from 1972 to 1995.

The players’ association has made $5,000 stipends available to its members from the $178.5 million in cash, U.S. Treasury securities and investments available on Dec. 31, 2020, according to its latest financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

There is a wide disparity in income among players. Of the 1,670 who appeared on a major league roster last year, 1,145 earned under $1 million, including 771 below $500,000 and 241 under $100,000.

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