- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Buoyed by recent progress at the negotiating table, the Major League Baseball Players Association elected yesterday not to set a strike date, offering a glimmer of hope that the sport can avoid its ninth work stoppage in 30 years.
In a show of good faith toward the nearing of a collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, union representatives emerged from yesterday's 3 -hour meeting in Chicago and said the announcement of a strike date was not yet necessary.
"While we don't have an agreement on all issues yet, I'm fairly confident we'll be able to reach one," union head Donald Fehr said.
The two sides are not out of the woods yet. The players will continue to monitor this week's scheduled bargaining sessions and will reconvene on Friday via conference call, at which time they could choose to set a strike date.
"You establish a date when you believe that it's essential to reach an agreement, but bearing in mind that a strike is the last thing the players want," Fehr said. "They get to it only when they feel they must. And we are not at that point yet."
Rob Manfred, the owners' top labor lawyer, called the decision "a positive step."
"We look forward to getting back to the bargaining table, and hope we can reach a negotiated agreement without any need for the interruption of the season," he said. "Both parties feel pressure to reach an agreement because of the enormity of the harm that would be caused by a strike."
Many speculated that the players would settle on a date yesterday, the eighth anniversary of the start of the 232-day work stoppage that canceled the 1994 World Series. Most believe a walkout would occur in late August or early September.
But with negotiators for both sides making headway during the past week of talks, union members believe a full agreement could be finalized by Friday without any concrete threat of a strike. Negotiations are set to resume today in New York.
"We feel like there's a window of opportunity to get something done in the next several days," Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine said. "And we're willing to explore that."
Several of Glavine's fellow players agreed.
"Everybody is a winner if we can get through this thing without setting a strike date," Colorado's Larry Walker said.
"If they come to the table and give us what we're looking for, there won't be a strike," Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa said.
In the last week, the owners and players have agreed to raise the minimum salary from $200,000 to $300,000 for next season, as well as to implement some form of testing for steroids.
However, the two sides still remain far apart on the larger issues of revenue sharing and a luxury tax, the latter standing as the biggest hurdle to a new collective bargaining agreement.
"We are hopeful that over the next several days we'll be able to work through those issues and be done with the business of negotiating for this bargaining round," Fehr said. "If not, then the players will meet again on Friday and consider what further steps ought to be taken."
Fehr and baseball commissioner Bud Selig spoke briefly over the phone after yesterday's meeting. According to Fehr, the two discussed "what has transpired the last several days and the hopes that we had as to what might transpire in the next few days."
Relations between management and the union appear to be far more cordial now than they were in 1994, when no significant bargaining sessions were held in the days leading up to the Aug.12 strike date.
"In 1994 by this stage, I think we were satisfied that there was virtually no possibility of an agreement in the short run," Fehr said, "and that the setting of a strike date would at the absolute minimum be required to get an agreement. We don't know whether that will be true this time. We hope that it won't be."
The two sides have been attempting to reach an agreement since the previous agreement expired on Nov.6. The owners want to institute major changes to the game's economic structure in an effort to restore competitive balance and save the many struggling small-market franchises that have virtually no chance of competing in a given season.
The players, however, fear that management will unilaterally impose new work rules (including perhaps a salary cap) at the conclusion of this season, and thus feel that a strike is their only bargaining chip.
With recent progress having been made in areas such as drug testing, the minimum salary and a worldwide amateur draft, the talks are expected to delve into the more complicated issues of revenue sharing and the luxury tax.
The owners want to increase revenue sharing from the current 20 percent to 50 percent. The union has proposed 22.5 percent.
The greater obstacle will be the luxury tax, in which teams with the highest payrolls must pay a tax that would aid financially struggling ballclubs. The owners, who secured a lesser form of a luxury tax for the 1997, '98 and '99 seasons, have proposed a 50 percent tax on all payrolls over $98million.
The players, however, view any form of a payroll tax akin to a salary cap, which they feel would drive down salaries throughout the league.
"I think both parties have shown flexibility in an attempt to get to a common ground with respect to those core economic issues," Manfred said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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