NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball Players Association chief Donald Fehr and ownership negotiator Randy Levine resumed negotiations aimed at ending the industry's 4-year-old labor dispute yesterday, but the players and owners appear to be farther from a deal than they were when talks broke off more than two months ago.
Fehr and Levine appeared to have come to a tentative agreement on an economic blueprint for the rest of the decade, but interim commissioner Bud Selig and baseball's ruling Executive Council have chosen not to put it to a vote of the full ownership, even though they appear to have the 21 votes necessary for ratification.
Instead, Levine came back yesterday with a restructured
proposal that -- presumably -- would be more palatable to the small faction of owners that does not want to accept the deal that was negotiated in August.
"Randy and I met off and on until 6 p.m. and will resume [today]," Fehr said. "We're glad to be talking again. It has been nearly nine weeks since we reached the initial agreement."
Union officials still are committed to maintaining the civil tone of the negotiations, but the atmosphere could deteriorate rapidly if no agreement is reached before players start becoming eligible for free agency 15 days after the end of the World Series.
The agreement hung up on the issue of service time. The union has insisted that service time lost during the lengthy players strike must be restored as part of any new collective bargaining agreement. The issue has become increasingly problematic because of the number of players who will come up short of the service time necessary to qualify for free agency in November if a deal is not made final.
The union has been waiting for Levine to assemble enough owners to ratify a deal, and figures to resist any attempt to rewrite it at this late stage in the negotiations.
"Obviously, we're not going to renegotiate the fundamental nature of the deal," Fehr said.
The tentative agreement calls for a tax on excess payroll that would redistribute more revenue to struggling clubs and -- in theory -- improve competitive balance throughout the major leagues.
Pub Date: 10/19/96