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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, December 18, 2001
An Open Letter to Rob Neyer
Eugene Freedman disagrees with some of the things my favorite columnist wrote recently.
I am a little dismayed by your statements about Don Fehr in today’s column as well as last Friday’s. Perhaps you are not aware of his duties and feel that because baseball union leaders receive more press than all but perhaps James P. Hoffa he has a higher duty to others than just his members.
I’ve been writing for Baseball Primer about labor law so perhaps you will take my comments out of line since you’ve had such famous rumblings with Don Malcolm. Anyway union leaders have a duty of fair representation to the members. This is embodied in the NLRA, but has gone though considerable case law clarification. One of the more important cases involved a railway union that chose to negotiate better job opportunites and wages and benefits for white members than blacks. The NLRB and courts found this to violate the union’s duty of fair representation, holding that the union had to treat all members the same regardless of race, color, creed, religion, and other protected reasons.
This parlays directly into your comment, "He’s also helped bring about a system in which few of his union’s members have a reasonable hope of reaching the postseason, and the lowest-paid members of that union make but a tiny fraction of what the highest-paid members make. And Fehr’s neglect of minor leaguers is, frankly, execrable." Oddly enough in other pieces you’ve argued that teams should not pay for replacable ‘talent’, such as Derek Bell and others, instead opting for minor leaguers. They should, instead, spend all of their money on players like Alex Rodriguez who possess special non-replacable abilities. The union, does provide these players with a minimum salary, which has increased substaintally over the past six years from $100,000 at the time of the 1994 strike to approximately $200,000 now. And, what besides this bear minimum salary do low paid members receive? For their $8,000 in annual dues these players receive around $30,000 in licensing money. That’s not a bad return on investment to start with. How about a pension that vests day ONE in the Major Leagues. ERISA requires that pensions vest after five years. These players get a pension after one day. Baseball is the only industry where the union has succeeded in bringing this benefit to my knowledge. And, who might you ask needs a pension. Well, not the Jason Giambi’s of the world. More likely it’s the lowest paid and fringe players who need a pension and they receive it due to the fine work done by the MLBPA on their behalf. They also get health care and other benefits.
And what of these minor leaguers you care for? Sure they need representation and perhaps with the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the MLBPA they could receive the best representation available, but the law is clear on this issue- unions only need to represent members of the bargaining unit, not future members of the bargaining unit. So, until the MLBPA petitions for an election with the NLRB for minor leaguers and wins such an election, they have no duty to these players at all. You too can get 30% of the minor leaguers to sign cards requesting representation and petition for an election. You seem to understand their plight and their needs, so perhaps you could represent them.
You state, "Well, let’s see ... he has to take some of the blame for the strike in 1994, which cost his players two months of their careers, not to mention millions of baseball fans two months of games, including the World Series. " Those lower paid players that you care about had their salaries paid by the union through the strike fund. Every player made the minimum during the strike, whether they were a $5M veteran or a $100,000 rookie. So none of the rich guys you seem to think the union represents did too well during the strike, but the minimum guys didn’t get hurt at all. And, if you’re upset about the strike that’s fine, but it wasn’t an economic strike, it was an Unfair Labor Practice strike. That means that the strike received higher protection because it was prompted by the owner’s violation of the law- a violation of Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA- the employer’s duty to bargain in good faith. It was not because the union wanted to extract more money from the owners.
The union is a democratic organization. The team player reps could be anyone from each team. Sure stars are more likely to be elected. But that serves two purposes. First it provides the union with effective mouthpieces in the media. Who does Barney Sportsreporter prefer to talk to, Tom Glavine or Jesse Garcia? Glavine is a wise choice for the players because he can get their issues out front. Granted the players could elect Garcia if they desired. And, Glavine and the other stars have something that Garcia and the other fringe players do not- job security. Garcia could be waived or traded at the drop of a hat and nobody would mind, except the union who would have to file an unfair labor practice for discriminating based upon union status, but Glavine will not be waived and it’s very unlikely he will be traded. He’s got a job, it’s protected because of his skill and therfore he’s a more effective union leader.
Don Fehr owes nothing to you or any other baseball fan. He doesn’t work for you. Perhaps if you realize that and then look at the benefits that he has provided to fringe and lower skill players, you will realize that all he is doing is his job- and he’s sure as hell doing a very, very good job at that.
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