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MLB Players Respond to Owners

Updated:
Baseball players and owners have their usual differences, which usually means labor talks will be lengthy and contentious.

Players showed no interest in owners' proposals for a luxury tax and vastly increased revenue sharing, offering a far different view Wednesday night of what the sport's labor contract should include.

In its first response to plans offered by management on Jan. 9 and Feb. 26, the union declined to accept the owners' luxury-tax proposal and made only a small change to its revenue-sharing system.

Instead, players proposed that teams be allowed to trade draft picks and that the richest and most successful clubs forfeit draft picks, which would be given to teams with the lowest revenue and poorest records.

``We appear to be as far apart today as we were yesterday,'' management negotiator Bob DuPuy said after the session in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Talks for a new collective bargaining agreement, which would replace the one that expired Nov. 7, recessed until after opening day on March 31.

``Our view is if they study it and think about it a little more, hopefully they won't view it that way,'' union head Donald Fehr said. ``Obviously, there's a lot of negotiating which remains to be done.''

On Monday, players and owners will resume the hearing of the union's contraction grievance. Players claim the attempt to fold the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos violated the expired labor contract.

Neither side has threatened a work stoppage, which would be baseball's ninth since 1972, and the negotiators have been less acrimonious in their public comments than in the past. Still, the great gulf in the positions of the sides was clear.

Owners have asked for a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payrolls above $98 million and also want to greatly increase the amount of shared locally generated revenue. Last year, $166 million was transferred from the teams with the highest revenue to the lower.

Management has proposed increasing the percentage of shared local revenue from 20 percent to 50 percent, with a $100 million fund available to the commissioner to disperse at his discretion.

The union remained at 22.5 percent, under a different formula _ a split pool rather than a straight pool in the language of the negotiators _ that would give more money to the teams with the lowest revenue and take less from the teams with the highest revenue. The players' proposal on a discretionary fund increased from $30 million to $40 million.

Owners say their plan would transfer $253 million, using last year's revenue figures, and that the union's would transfer $187 million.

``We will study what they presented,'' DuPuy said, ``but we informed them that we were disappointed that on two elements we believe to be the most critical to beginning to restore competitive balance _ additional revenue sharing and a competitive-balance tax, they chose to make marginal movement on one and no movement on the other.''

Players did propose that teams for the first time be able to trade selections in both the June amateur draft and the December winter meeting draft of players not on 40-man rosters.

In addition, the teams with the best records and highest revenue would lose their first-round picks, which would be given to teams with the poorest records and lowest revenue.

The union also proposed a variant of the competitive-balance draft recommended by management's latest economic study committee. That committee said in 2000 that the teams with the eight poorest records over a three-year period should be able to selected players from the teams with the eight best records over that time.

Players are not in favor of several proposals owners made Feb. 26 that the union considers givebacks:

_ withholding salary from players suspended for on-field misconduct;

_ eliminating salary arbitration eligibility for about a dozen players annually, those with 2-to-3 years of major league service;

_ allowing teams to release players after the annual exchange of salary arbitration figures without having to give them termination pay;

The union told owners it would agree to a variation of management's proposal to make all players in the world subject to the annual amateur draft.

Players have not yet responded to commissioner Bud Selig's decision last week to limit the amount of team debt, a topic owners say is not a mandatory subject of bargaining under federal labor law. Starting in June, Selig said, baseball will enforce its rule requiring that a team's debt be no more than 40 percent of its value.

``We have not seen the memo,'' Fehr said. ``We got a notification in a letter dated last Friday. We've asked them some questions about it.''
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