JUPITER, Fla. — NFL labor talks are in mediation. NBA labor talks are generally stuck.
Baseball is hoping to avoid those fates.
That's what union head Michael Weiner will tell players over the coming weeks, a process that started on Monday when his spring training tour opened with a visit to the St. Louis Cardinals. Weiner laid out how the Major League Baseball Players Association is prepping for talks on the game's next collective bargaining agreement, with the current one set to expire in December.
"I know we're prepared to try to get it done. I'm confident that the ownership is prepared to try to get it done as well," Weiner said. "You don't know until you get to the table."
Weiner expects meetings about the next CBA to be held in both Florida and Arizona before the regular season opens. He acknowledged keeping track of the labor talks going on in football and basketball, noting they "conceivably could have an affect on our atmosphere."
The NFL's labor deal expires at the end of the day March 3, and the union fears that team owners will lock out players — and threaten the 2011 season. The NBA's deal expires June 30, and Commissioner David Stern ominously said at All-Star weekend that the sides there "have each expressed to the other our dissatisfaction with each other's proposals."
"You don't want to see a work stoppage anywhere," Weiner said, adding that the NFL and NBA unions have baseball's support.
Cardinals player representative Kyle McClellan said the meeting was key because "there's a lot at stake here."
"We want to make sure that we're informed, make sure that we're prepared," McClellan said. "We don't even know what the other side's issues are. As of right now we're just making sure that we're well prepared."
Weiner met with the Cardinals for about 90 minutes, his presentation often interrupted – to his liking – by questions, none of which he said caught him off-guard.
"What I'm talking about here is explaining what preparations have been done, different levels of player involvement, what our negotiating committee does, what our executive board does, what role the player membership has, how they can get information over the course of the year," Weiner said. "And then some of the mechanics of bargaining, where it takes place, all that."
Among the subjects Weiner discussed following the meeting:
– He said he would not expect the looming trials for home run king Barry Bonds (scheduled for March) and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens (scheduled for July) to cast a large pall over the 2011 season.
Bonds is expected to plead not guilty when arraigned March 1 for the latest modified indictment since he was initially charged in 2007 with lying to a grand jury about his steroids use.
Clemens faces allegations of lying to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform during a deposition and hearing in February 2008 where he said he did not use steroids or human growth hormone during his career.
"I don't think anybody's happy about the fact that Barry and Roger face these trials," Weiner said. "Knowing both of those guys a long time, I'm not happy about that. I think the institution has gotten to the point where drug testing and the issues associated with it are going to be involved with the business of the game, but it's not the dominant story that it has been or was several years ago."
– Weiner met with Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who said last week that he believed the union was pressuring nine-time All-Star Albert Pujols to "set the bar" with his latest contract. Talks between the Cardinals and Pujols on what is believed to be an eight-year deal worth $200 million were halted last Wednesday and the three-time MVP said they will not resume until season's end.
Weiner said the talk with La Russa went smoothly, without revealing much in the way of details. The MLBPA denied advising Pujols on what to do during his talks with the Cardinals.
"The union's role will be, we're there to support any player who wants assistance from us but when it comes to free agent negotiations the players and agents are essentially on their own," Weiner said.
Said La Russa: "We just said hello and kidded each other."
Part of the Cardinals' offer to Pujols was believed to include the opportunity for him to obtain a stake in the franchise when his playing days were over — something that is not prohibited under baseball's current rules.
"Have we thought about it a little bit? Yes. Have we thought about it a lot? No," Weiner said.
– Salary advancement and other financial matters will obviously have a dominant spot on all negotiating agendas between owners and players, though Weiner expects this deal not will not bring sweeping changes.
"I don't think either side is looking to fundamentally change the way contracts are negotiated in baseball," Weiner said. "I think both are, I'll say satisfied with the basic structure of the reserve system in terms of salary arbitration and free agency."
– Two Senate Democrats said last week that they would like Major League Baseball to ban smokeless tobacco, which is already prohibited in the minor leagues. Weiner said he expects that to be addressed.
"I'm not going to make any predictions about where we're going to go with it, but I do expect it to be an issue," Weiner said.
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