The Major League Baseball Players’ Association distributed a 36-page guide to prepare players and their agents for the possibility of a lockout when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Dec. 1 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.
The guide, obtained by the Southern California News Group, addresses such questions as whether players are able to play abroad if there is no major league season, whether they will be drug tested during a lockout, and how to save money in case their paychecks cease.
The mere existence of such a document points to the growing likelihood of a work stoppage in December. If no agreement is reached before the deadline, player transactions will be paused. Only the minor league portion of the annual Winter Meetings would be held Dec. 5-9 in Orlando. And the clock would begin to tick on the commencement of spring training next February, with the financial mechanisms of the entire baseball industry in limbo.
The last work stoppage in MLB was the players’ strike of 1994-95. With no recent history in professional baseball to draw upon, the guide takes some of its answers from lessons learned from work stoppages in the NFL and NHL.
For example: The MLBPA “will take the position, consistent with other sports unions in prior lockouts, that a Player who is injured and unable to play at the time of the lockout must receive his pay and access to rehab until he is medically cleared.”
The guide also cites past precedent in the NFL and NHL to declare it “unlikely” that MLB can administer drug tests during a work stoppage.
According to the guide, the Players’ Association will use funds from its reserves to pay for the continued coverage of health benefits for 40-man roster players “if a strike or lockout is ongoing when the 2022 season is scheduled to begin.”
As required by the current CBA, MLB furnished a 2022 schedule this summer. The first spring training exhibition games are scheduled for Feb. 25. Opening Day of the regular season is March 31.
The guide stipulates that players can play in independent and foreign leagues during a lockout, but aren’t allowed to work out at team facilities or team-organized workouts unless they are rehabilitating a baseball injury.
Players can’t be optioned or outrighted to the minor leagues during a work stoppage, effectively freezing 40-man rosters in place until a new CBA is agreed upon.
The guide also addresses concerns about the less conspicuous collectively bargained benefits:
• Pension benefits: Active 40-man roster players will not earn service time toward their pensions during a strike or lockout, but eligible inactive players will continue to receive payments during any work stoppage.
• Health benefits: The MLBPA isn’t legally able to pay for the coverage of inactive (not on 40-man roster) players during a work stoppage to make up for the lost one-third subsidy that would otherwise be paid through club contributions. That means inactive players who elect to remain on the MLBPA health plan could see an increase in their premiums until a work stoppage is resolved.
• Licensing agreements: To prepare for a possible work stoppage, players voted in 2018 to withhold full licensing checks paid to the MLBPA beginning that year.
• Executive salaries: If players fail to receive their scheduled paychecks, senior MLBPA staff will not receive their paychecks beginning at that time, and for the duration of any work stoppage.
• Lost service time: Any crediting back of service time lost due to a work stoppage would have to be part of a negotiated settlement at the end of the work stoppage.
• Unemployment compensation: Many states will provide benefits to locked-out workers, but may impose requirements such as proof of a search for alternative work. States generally don’t provide unemployment benefits to striking employees.
• Foreign work visas: International players who are already in the U.S. on a P-1 or O-1 visa when a lockout commences do not violate the terms of their visa. However, players could have their visas revoked if they aren’t in the U.S. by Dec. 1.
Lastly, the guide outlines the MLBPA’s priorities for this round of collective bargaining. “A broad assessment of our industry shows that player value and player compensation are not moving in the right direction,” it reads. “We have fundamental concerns about the integrity of the system as it is currently operating.”
• Incentivizing competition: “We continue to see clubs openly choosing a model of sustained losing while still reaping economic benefit. Winning at all levels needs to have value, or our system doesn’t work.”
• Ensuring the most talented players are on the field: “Our game is at its best when the best players are on the field, regardless of age, experience or service time. Clubs continue to keep the best players off the field, simply to manipulate service time. This fundamentally damages the integrity of the sport.”
• Reducing artificial restraints on compensation: “Restrictions like the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) and Draft Pick Compensation continue to affect how clubs compete for players and provide convenient excuses for clubs to justify their lack of competitiveness. These artificial drags on player compensation must be addressed.”
• Getting players their value earlier in their career: “For decades, our reserve system has been separated into three main groups: pre-arbitration players who make near the minimum salary, players eligible for salary arbitration, and free agents. Recent industry trends show that more and more on-field value is being created by younger players whose salaries are artificially suppressed by the reserve system. The system needs to be modernized so that players can be compensated for the value they create, WHEN THEY CREATE IT.”