The Major League Baseball Players Association announced yesterday that it has hired veteran attorney Bruce Meyer to serve as its senior director of collective bargaining & legal. He is expected to play a leading role in the MLBPA’s negotiation efforts with MLB.
According to the announcement, Meyer “will report to [MLBPA executive director] Tony Clark while focusing on all facets of the negotiation and the enforcement of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.”
Meyer comes to the game of baseball after decades of experience with unions of other sports. Most recently, he worked for the National Hockey League Player’s Association. There, he functioned alongside NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, the former longtime MLBPA director.
Fehr’s notable run at the helm of the MLBPA — which spanned several contentious and controversial episodes in labor relations — came to an end when he stepped down in 2009, handing the reins to Michael Weiner. Upon Weiner’s untimely death in late 2013, the top job passed down to Clark.
The addition of Meyer atop the MLBPA negotiation team comes nearly two years after the most recent round of CBA negotiations. The resulting agreement in many ways maintained preexisting approaches to managing the contractual interactions of players and teams, but included several notable rules tweaks that many believe operated to the detriment of players (see, e.g., this post from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper).
In particular, the luxury tax line and international spending limitations have arguably harmed MLB players’ earning upside, particularly for quality veterans seeking long-term deals in free agency. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that there’s another fascinating market test coming up this winter. While multiple big-market organizations made sure in the last offseason to reset their luxury tax rates (which increase upon consecutive seasons in excess of the spending line), those same teams and others could now be freed to loosen their purse strings somewhat.
Three more years remain for the union to gather evidence and plot a strategic course before a ramp-up toward a new CBA. In the meantime, the MLBPA has already launched a grievance action against four teams for allegedly failing to properly utilize funds received through revenue-sharing rules.
Just how the Meyer hiring will influence the progress of labor relations remains to be seen. With his litigation background — the announcement notes he has worked on “several landmark grievances and lawsuits brought on behalf of Players across each of the North American major professional sports” — Meyer certainly has experience in more confrontational means of engaging with sports leagues and owners. Surely, though, the preference on all sides will remain the avoidance of any disruptions to business, particularly as the game of baseball encounters some tricky issues with respect to the nature of the game, its competitive balance, and its delivery to consumers in person and through a screen.
For his part, Meyer says the move represents an “opportunity to continue my commitment as a Player advocate.” He also noted in his statement that he “believe[s] in Tony’s vision for the Players and for the organization,” a message evidently intended to convey internal solidarity and affirm Clark’s leadership position in light of the criticism he has received.