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Players, owners take small steps

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The Major League Baseball Players Association returned to the bargaining table with a written proposal yesterday, hoping to develop a foundation on which union and management negotiators can begin serious bargaining.

The daylong meeting at the Capital Hilton did not lead to any significant movement in the stalemated negotiations, but it gave union negotiators an opportunity to address some of ownership's Fort Lauderdale revenue-sharing accord in the context of the union's most recent taxation proposal.

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The new plan apparently calls for a slightly higher flat tax and still includes the industry growth fund that was in the union's earlier proposal. It also includes the same provisions for union/management cooperation on major decisions affecting the sport.

"We made a written proposal articulating what we talked about last week and trying to conform our ideas on Fort Lauderdale with theirs," union director Donald Fehr said.

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It is a follow-up to the negotiations that broke off just before the owners went to Chicago last week to vote on a possible impasse declaration. Time ran out on those talks, but they apparently were promising enough to convince the owners to hold off another week before implementing the salary cap.

Is this a significant development? That's unclear, but it was a necessary step on the road to an agreement, if one can be reached. The players' proposal was intended to tie up enough loose ends to provide a framework for substantive negotiations on the central issue -- ownership's desire for a mechanism to control costs.

"We have been trying to establish an appropriate framework to address the clubs' principal concern -- a tax plan that includes marginal [secondary] tax rates," said union associate general counsel Eugene Orza. "What we're trying to do is get Fort Lauderdale out of the way so we can be on the same page with respect to what the Fort Lauderdale plan does so we can frame it appropriately to marry their needs with ours."

The players and owners both have come forward with taxation plans that would generate money to help small-market clubs, but the tax rates and the ultimate impact on payrolls are vastly different.

The last comprehensive union proposal attempted to supersede ownership's revenue-sharing plan by generating the same amount of money ($58 million) that was called for in the owners' Fort Lauderdale accord. The owners, however, have made it clear that they want more than a simple transfer of revenue. They insist on a plan that also puts some kind of ceiling on salaries.

The question now may center on intent. The owners are trying to give the impression that they are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to prevent an imposed settlement. The union has responded with another move in their direction, which will make it more difficult to justify an impasse declaration.

Four ownership negotiators -- Phillies executive vice president David Montgomery and three management lawyers -- and a full contingent of union officials and players attended yesterday's session. Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris and Boston Red Sox owner John Harrington are expected to arrive in Washington today to join in the negotiations.

If this set of talks does not lead to a breakthrough, ownership's executive council is expected to implement the salary cap on Friday, though two deadlines have passed without an impasse declaration.



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