The Major League Baseball Players Association has filed a grievance against the league, claiming that MLB did not negotiate in good faith to play as many games as possible in the shortened 2020 season, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. The MLBPA grievance seeks as much as $500MM, which Sherman suggests is the equivalent of roughly 20 games of additional pay.
At this point, the timeline for a potential resolution isn’t fully clear. Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic report that the grievance was actually filed two weeks ago, adding that the league has argued in response that 60 games was the maximum possible due to health and safety reasons. Of course, the league itself submitted proposals for larger numbers of games, although it did so with additional salary cuts which MLB knew to be a nonstarter in talks with the union.
Both the Post and the Athletic note that the league has asked the union to fast-track this grievance so that a resolution may be reached in advance of the looming expiration of the collective bargaining agreement on Dec. 1, 2021. However, it also seems viable that the union could drag out the process so that an eventual concession to drop the grievance can be used as a negotiating ploy in those CBA talks.
The crux of the grievance seems to stem from the language in the March 26 agreement reached between MLB and the MLBPA last year. That agreement stipulated that the league would make its “best efforts to play as many games as possible.” Less than a month after striking that accord, the two sides were embroiled in a new debate, once it had become clear that it would not be possible to have fans in attendance. The union left open a window for owners to pull back on their commitment to prorated salaries, as language within the March agreement stated that the two sides would “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators.”
The result was an ugly, months-long debate that played out in the public eye. A new agreement was never reached, and commissioner Rob Manfred eventually implemented a 60-game schedule under the terms of that March agreement. Players were paid the prorated version of their salaries — roughly 37 percent of what they initially stood to earn with a full, 162-game slate. Service time was also prorated, such that one day on the MLB roster in the shortened schedule amounted to roughly 2.77 days of service time. Incentive clauses and the conditions to trigger vesting options in player contracts were prorated as well.
Now, it seems the two sides are set to spar once again over the vague and nebulous language in that March agreement — this time against a more immediate backdrop of collective bargaining negotiations. If the two sides can’t agree on some form of settlement, the grievance will eventually be heard by a three-person arbitration panel. Because one member of that panel represents the union and another represents the league, the outcome will effectively boil down to the ruling of the lone, mutually agreed-upon third party.