Players union to present drug-testing counterproposalPosted: Tuesday August 06, 2002 9:51 PM
Updated: Wednesday August 07, 2002 4:07 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Baseball's union could set a strike date Monday when its executive board meets in Chicago to evaluate the progress of labor talks.
The board held a telephone conference call Tuesday to discuss negotiations, where slow-but-steady progress is being made. It also prepared a response Wednesday to the owners' proposal for mandatory drug testing.
Players seem reluctant to set a deadline that could trigger baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972. But depending on negotiations the rest of this week, a strike date could be set at the Chicago meeting, according to a pair of lawyers familiar with the union's deliberations, both speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's hard for me to believe that we're going to get anything done without having a deadline," NL player representative Tom Glavine said. "It's almost like the threat of a strike date has kind of become the deadline of this thing. If that spurs things on, great."
On the drug issue, it appears players will agree to some level of tests for steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.
Glavine said players want to prove "our sport is clean and if it's not, we'll do something to clean it up."
Baseball has been without a drug agreement since 1985. Owners have proposed testing all players three times a year for performance-enhancing drugs and once a year for illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.
Negotiators for players and owners met twice Tuesday, spending most of their time discussing the owners' proposals for debt regulation and new rules regarding the funding of deferred compensation. They did not discuss the central issues: management's proposals for increased revenue sharing and for a luxury tax that would slow the increase of player salaries.
"The key issues that will determine whether we have to set a strike date or not are still being talked about," Baltimore player representative Jason Johnson said. "We'll find out on Monday what's going to be done."
Negotiations for a deal to replace the one that expired Nov. 7 have intensified in the past 10 days, and the sides have reached agreements on minor issues.
"The state of negotiations is guarded optimism. We are at a very crucial point right now," New York Yankees player representative Mike Stanton said. "The simple fact that we haven't set a date yet shows how much we understand it will affect the game and the fans. But we don't want the fact that we haven't set a date to be seen as some sign of weakness. We'll do what we have to do."
Players fear that without an agreement, owners will lock them out or change work rules after the World Series. The union would rather have a work stoppage late in the season, when more pressure is on owners, than during the spring.
Union head Donald Fehr said the timing of setting a strike date "depends on the status of the negotiations." Asked whether the executive board will discuss a strike date Monday, he said, it would go over "all issues related to negotiations."
Toronto's Vernon Wells said establishing a deadline wasn't discussed during the conference call.
"No strike date has been set, and it looks like we may not have to set one," he said.
Tampa Bay's John Flaherty was wary about reports of progress.
"What you hear on TV and the radio and read in the papers can give you a very clouded picture," he said. "I'm not sure it's as optimistic as that."
While the sides are making progress on finding a middle ground on revenue sharing, the luxury tax will probably be the most divisive issue. Players were reluctant to agree to a luxury tax for the 1997, 1998 and 1999 seasons, and most owners felt that tax was ineffective.
The tax in the previous deal affected only the teams with the five highest payrolls and was at 34 or 35 percent, depending on the year. Owners are seeking a 50 percent tax on the portions of payrolls over $98 million. Players think such a tax, when combined with increased revenue sharing, would act like a salary cap.
"No one wants to strike, but the players will strike if that's what it takes to cut a deal," Liefer said. "We get treated like it's a business, so we've got to act like it's a business."