Levine, owners' new chief negotiator, says 'there is always a common ground'


Major League Baseball has a new chief labor negotiator, but there is no indication that the owners and players will forge a new collective bargaining agreement and end nearly three years of labor unrest.

New York City labor relations commissioner Randy Levine is the latest point man for management, and he said yesterday that he is optimistic that he can be the missing link between the two polarized bargaining units.

"I'm always an optimist," Levine said by telephone conference call yesterday. "I've gone into a lot of situations nobody believed could be solved. If you went back to some of the things we did in New York, people said it would never happen and we got it done. I think if you work hard and put your mind to it, there is always a common ground between people."

Only time will tell if Levine, who has wide experience negotiating with government employee unions, is displaying determination or naivete. His predecessor, Richard Ravitch, was very positive about his ability to communicate with union chief Donald Fehr and the strongest players association in any sport, but his hard-line strategy only pushed the game closer to the brink of economic disaster. He was dismissed a few weeks before his contract expired and his role assumed by Boston Red Sox owner John Harrington.

Ravitch could not sell the players on a salary cap or a luxury tax plan that would satisfy ownership's desire for strict cost controls. Harrington couldn't, either, but lawyers for both sides have continued to negotiate privately during the 1995 season.

"I believe in the sanctity of the bargaining table," Levine said. "I think that when you do things in a public arena, it becomes more difficult.

"If I can [help] resolve this, that would be one of the most memorable things in my life."

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